Reviewer for The Paranormal Romance Guild
1st Place 2016 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards – Horror YA & Adult
1st Place 2016 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards – Horror YA & Adult – Series
When Winter’s senior prom is ruined because her best friend is dumped by her boyfriend, by her mother urges her to attend an after-prom party. There she foolishly gets drunk, meets friend Ally’s ex, Hayden, and, in the heat of an alcoholic haze, indiscreetly kisses him. When the party’s raided by police, Hayden hides Winter in a shack frequented by teens and leaves her there to sleep it off. In the morning, Winter discovers there’s been a search for her because she didn’t come home. She’s more overcome by the remorse of kissing Hayden, however, and the fact she’s been “unfaithful” to her own boyfriend Liam.
To make things worse, Hayden now reveals he’s in love with her and threatens to tell Liam if she doesn’t. In a moment of despair, Winter confides her problem to a stranger who refers her to someone who can make the secret “go away”…the Secret Keeper. The mysterious woman, living at the end of a reputedly haunted street, agrees to help but tells Winter there are strict stipulations…she can only ask for one secret to be erased; though everyone else will forget her secret, Winter will always remember; if she has another secret, she won’t be able to reveal it to anyone.
Winter agrees, and her problem vanishes, it never happened, but…
Soon the Secret Keeper’s warnings are brought to Winter full force. She witnesses a murder…unexpected…horrific…extremely personal… Now she has another secret, and as the Secret Keeper warned, she’s unable to tell anyone, something prevents her from speaking the accusing words. In fact, her actions make everyone, even Liam, think she’s overwhelmed by grief. She never learns the killer’s motive, only knows that she and those she loves are his next targets. There’s a solution, of course, but it’s one she doesn’t want to take, because it involves committing an act which will change Winter and life as she knows it forever…
My first thought on beginning this story was that Winter’s mother should’ve taken some responsibility for her daughter’s behavior at that party because she urged her to go when Winter wanted to stay home. My second thought was that merely kissing another boy wasn’t being unfaithful. Sleeping with him would’ve been, a mere kiss—even when drunk—no. Considering Winter’s description of Liam, he probably would’ve understood. Obviously, in Winter’s world, however, the barest hint of indiscretion is the same as full infidelity. Also, if she’d brushed it off, we wouldn’t have the very gripping, suspenseful story that follows.
Until the point of the murders Winter witnesses, the story proceeds much as a routine Young Adult novel. Then Winter peers through that kitchen window, and…teenage angst transforms into teenage horror, worry turns to hysteria, and a young woman must discover resources of strength she didn’t know existed. The killer stands before her in a crowd and she can’t tell anyone what she knows. Winter’s helplessness and frustration is skillfully transmitted to the reader; her desperation to keep others from harm’s way while trying to find an answer invokes tension as well as pity. There’s a solution but she hesitates to take it, considering the cost. Like the dream in which one can’t move as some danger inexorably comes nearer and nearer, though we may wish otherwise, the Secret Keeper’s offer may be the only way out.
With the exception of a few grammatical errors, this story is well-written. Told through two first person points-of-view—Winter’s and boyfriend Liam’s—it gives us the story from both the victim’s perspective as well as an outsider’s. With an original theme and some twists along the way, it creates a sensation of frantic helpless tension. This is a story involving not the blood-and-gore type of horror but a deeper, more personal and introspective kind…that of choices one must make and the consequences to be lived with after that is done. It also deals with the fact that though the act may be erased from others’ minds, what we have done will continue to live in our own memories no matter how deep it is buried, for as the Secret Keeper says, “Our memory is what saves us from making the same mistakes over and over.”
To her regret, Winter discovers this all too well.