Review: This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done

This Secret We're Keeping by Rebecca Done

A pupil and a teacher. Is it ever right to break the rules? Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. After all, he was her first love when she was fifteen years old. But he was also her school maths teacher, and their forbidden affair ended in scandal with his arrest and imprisonment. Now, seventeen years later, Matthew returns to Norfolk, with a new identity and a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter, who know nothing of what happened before. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them together. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present? From debut author Rebecca Done, This Secret We’re Keeping is a powerful and provocative novel about the ties which can keep us together – or tear us apart.

This novel is told over two time frames, which gives it an interesting dynamic. We get to see Matthew, or Will as he’s now known, and Jess in the present day but we also get to read Matthew’s viewpoint of what happened when he and Jess has their affair.

This was an interesting novel. It’s a controversial subject anyway, the idea of a grown man dating a 15 year old girl but when he is her teacher it adds to the seriousness of the situation. It initially seems very clear in this novel that Jess does a lot of the running but Matthew doesn’t do much to resist her, and the issue is that even if she did pursue him she is a child in the eyes of the law and it is up to him to tell her no. It’s easy to forget this over the course of the novel and to feel like this is a grand love story, and then when you’re reminded that what he did was a crime it’s feels unfair and shocking.

Matthew did end up going to prison for the relationship he had with Jess and she appears to have moved on with her life. The novel begins in the present day when Jess spots Matthew and runs after him and he ends up accidentally knocking her down with his car whilst his wife and child are with him. This leads to them seemingly irresistibly being drawn back to each other.

I actually felt really uncomfortable about their relationship most of the way through the novel, but weirdly, and I’m not sure if it’s just because we got a more rounded view of the present day, it bothered me more in the present day. There were little things that Matthew said or implied and it would bring me up short, it felt to me that he was obsessed with Jess and always had been, which then leads to me questioning whether he was intentionally grooming her when she was a schoolgirl. The fact that we only see their illegal relationship through his eyes means we never really know the truth about it, because he is only going to tell it in a way that makes him seem as innocent of a crime as possible. Jess’s side of the story, that we learn in retrospect is almost irrelevant because if he had been grooming her, it would make sense that she did believe she was in love with him – she wouldn’t have known any difference at the time and it would have blinkered her judgment as she got older.

I liked the way the novel ended, it fitted the way the book had been up until that point. I’m not going to give any spoilers but I know a lot of readers may well find the ending a little open and dissatisfying but I did feel it worked with the way the novel had been throughout.

I rated it 4 out of 5 and would recommend it. I found it be a novel that really made me think and yet managed to remain an enjoyable read – there is a great balance between treating this issue seriously but without making readers feel bogged down at any point. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rebecca Done writes next!

I received this book from Michael Joseph/Penguin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This Secret We’re Keeping is out now and available from all good bookshops.

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22 thoughts on “Review: This Secret We’re Keeping by Rebecca Done

  1. I agree with you, it must unsettling to hear about their illegal relationship only through Matthew’s point of view. I think in this kind of situation, I’d rather have both voices telling their versions. Open endings are tricky, I am glad it worked for you. Great review 🙂 I had almost forgotten the book was on my wishlist, but now I can’t wait to get it!

  2. Hm. As a teacher, I have VERY strong views about the sanctity of the pupil/teacher relationship. I teach one to one and the relationship is often intense, particularly if you are teaching someone who is struggling – any way you cut it – it is abuse and a complete betrayal of trust if you, the teacher, cross that line. Under ANY circumstances.

  3. It sounds like it’s quite disturbing read in the way that you’re almost complicit in the crime through seeing it from his point of view. It reminds me of a novel I read last year, Precocious by Joanna Barnard – have you read it?

    • It disturbed me because it gradually dawned on me that we only get his viewpoint and he has a vested interest in making it sound like the girl did all the running. I haven’t read Precocious but I’ve now looked it up and will add it to my TBR. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. I kinda have issues with parent-teacher relationships, so I do not know how to feel if ever I get to read a story like this. I honestly have avoided reading books with this theme. But your review is so beautiful, I may be able to read this one soon.

    • I find novels like this uncomfortable to read because you can find yourself forgetting about how the couple met and then when you’re reminded it’s not a nice feeling. I don’t like books where teacher/student relationships are made to seem acceptable. I know some reviewers have felt this book was a real love story and they were doomed lovers but I honestly saw enough in it that it felt like he was grooming the girl and that he continued to manipulate her in the present day. If you decide to read it, let me know what you think of it.

  5. Great review, Hayley. Ever since I read “Notes on a Scandal” by Zoë Heller, which touches the same issues, I’m wary of teacher/pupil relationship books. They give me major book hangover.
    Well done to you for reading this and telling us about it in a nonjudgmental way.

    • Thank you. The Zoe Heller book gave me such a book hangover too, it kind of haunted me for ages. This book isn’t in that league but it did give me a lot to think about.
      I try to be fair in my reviews, even if they’re about issues that I have firm views on so I’m glad that came across in this review.

  6. I really like your review, I’ve just finished reading this book myself and done a review. It’s a controversial story and I very much enjoyed it, it was gripping.

    • I’ve just been and read your review. It’s really interesting that we’ve both had quite a different viewpoint on the relationship yet we both enjoyed the novel – it was definitely a gripping read. I love how books can bring such different opinions.

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