Jasper is a regular guy who knows what his life will be—he’ll continue working “dead-end” jobs that keep him living paycheck to paycheck, meet another struggling, regular Joe like himself, and settle down and adopt a dog when his looks no longer pull at the bars and he no longer has his trusty best friend and wingwoman, Lacy, at his side to boost his ego and keep him company.
Yet, Jasper’s world comes crashing down when Lacy commits suicide and he begins to question himself and their friendship. When he meets Lacy’s uncle, Rob, at her funeral, Jasper is caught off guard by the unexpected and instant connection he has to the much older man, especially given the timing and the fact that he has never been attracted to older men. Yet as they share drinks, memories, and comfort, Jasper takes Rob up on his offer to keep in touch and the two form a friendship via email. However, the strain of beginning a relationship in the midst of grief, insecurity, and long distance is compounded when the reason for Lacy’s estrangement from her family and Rob’s role in it is brought to light.
I picked The Secrets We Keep for Older/Younger Hero Week for our Reading Challenge Month because I wanted to read a book with an older lead character, and while I am a bit disappointed that Rob’s POV is not more prominent, I do like several aspects of his character. For example, although Rob is a very successful author, at fifty years old he has never been in love, and thus, is as unprepared as Jasper for that kind of emotion. He also displays some of the same traits of self-centeredness in his dealings with Lacy that Jasper does, illustrating that no matter how put together you seem or how old you get, you can still grow and be better. Additionally, while Jasper feels insecurity over Rob’s success, as well as the fact that Rob comes from a wealthy family (particularly compared to Jasper’s poor/middle class upbringing), Rob is as insecure as Jasper; he’s insecure about his age and whether Jasper is actually interested in him at all.
Since the story is mostly in Jasper’s POV, his character has the most development. I wasn’t sure I was going to like him much given how disparaging his thoughts are about his best friend in the beginning and that he admits he drags her to gay bars with him for self-validation. Moreover, he knows a lot of their outings/friendship dynamics are out of whack and one way. But over the course of the story and in getting to know Rob, he brings Lacy to life for her estranged uncle (and the reader) through his remembrance of their friendship and special places. Seeing Jasper deal with Lacy’s death, his shortcomings, and other painful relationships/losses, and finally owning up to the fact that his is not the only valid pain in his circle of loved ones is gratifying.
Normally, I would try to avoid saying what happened to Lacy in my review, but what I find most compelling about the book is not Jasper and Rob’s tentative romance, but what brought them together in the first place, and frankly the narrative’s underlying discussion of suicide—how or if people can help loved one’s struggling with suicidal ideation; how, can, or what to do if you recognize the signs of depression; how do you deal with the inevitable guilt whether you could help or not, etc.—took on a life of its own. All the questions the narrative poses through Jasper’s struggle when facing his own selfishness and sometimes just normal self-centeredness, for me, make Lacy more alive than she was for the few pages she appeared at the beginning of the story (especially with the slight paranormal element involved) and much more interesting than the connection between Jasper and Rob. The blurb mentions the “bloom of new romance,” and this is a very apt description. Their relationship is at best budding, and it is doing so in the midst of heavy circumstances and then almost overwhelmed by a Noah-sized flood of secret shame. Given the circumstances and Jasper’s insecurities about their wealth disparities, it is little wonder that I couldn’t feel much chemistry between them, and it was usually only somewhat bolstered by one of the few, well-timed Rob POV scenes.
The Secrets We Keep isn’t your typical romance, but the story is honest and compelling in different ways. The MCs are fallible and human. They are two people getting to know each other in the midst of their shared grief, guilt, and belief they failed someone they loved. They don’t fall instantly in love or lust. I also like that Jasper and Rob end on a very realistic HFN. Not only are they still getting to know one another, but they are still grieving, still dealing with the fallout of losing Lacy in such a tragic way, and still learning new things about themselves.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Older/Younger Hero Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of FIVE $20 JMS store gift cards from JMS Books! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Older/Younger Hero Week here.