THE BOOK OF SECRETS – Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Bantam Books
ISBN: 978-0-553-59253-5
July 2013
Contemporary Fiction

California – Past and Present Day

THE BOOK OF SECRETS is a novel that immediately grips readers with a tale of family, friendship, and love – all with a devastating mystery at the core. It begins with Chloe Sinclair's realization that after twenty years of marriage to her childhood best friend and sweetheart, her husband, Nate, has disappeared. Nate's farewell note provides no explanation of why he has left, but simply tells Chloe that he has returned to their childhood hometown, a place of shared memories and heartbreak for the couple.

For decades, the relationship between Chloe and Nate was complicated and intense, and punctuated by the kidnapping and death of the couple's young child, Gabriel. Nate's disappearance causes Chloe to painfully re-live and re-evaluate their past in her quest to understand why Nate abandoned her.

Chloe and Nate met as young children, and it's a classic story of opposites attract. Chloe lived in a rundown shack with her single mother, who was desperately trying to make ends meet but was inattentive to her daughter's needs. Nate, along with his two sisters, lived in a different part of town with their parents, and was homeschooled. Chloe meeting Nate and his sisters happened by chance, but the children became fast friends. The foundation of friendship is cemented with a shared love of books and reading and flourishes as they all grow up.

As the children became teenagers, Chloe and Nate's relationship transformed from friendship to romance. While the romance flourished, the situation with Nate's family declined. Reeling from Nate's mother's death, Nate's father, Joel, made the family home an unpleasant and abusive place for his two daughters and son. Nate developed and executed an elaborate plan for the siblings to escape and start a new life, far away from Joel – and at the heart of this plan was for Chloe to join them several months later.

Shortly after Nate left their hometown, Chloe discovered she was pregnant. This presented a huge issue because Nate's family was extremely religious, and his father had been led to believe that Nate had committed suicide. Chloe reached out to Nate to share the news of her pregnancy, and together the couple had to face Joel to reveal the truth. Not surprisingly, Joel was furious (proclaiming that the baby will be born “in sin”) and attempted to bribe the couple with money; in exchange, it must be kept secret that Nate is the baby's father. As another stipulation of the bribe, Joel commanded Nate spend several years at a religious college across the country.

Gabriel was a happy, healthy toddler and was the light of Chloe's life. During his frequent visits home from college, Nate struggled to develop a bond with Gabriel, given the cloak of secrecy in which he must parent and spend time with the youngster. However, after several years, the young family had finally somewhat settled into normalcy, when the unthinkable happened: Gabriel was kidnapped and eventually presumed dead. All of the evidence pointed to Joel.

Joel was convicted and spent years in prison for the kidnapping. Chloe still grieves for Gabriel and despises Joel, but she accepts that this part of her life with Nate is over. After Gabriel's death, Nate and Chloe had married and settled into a quiet life together, running a used bookstore several hours away from their hometown. However, as Chloe works through a coded notebook Nate had written for Gabriel that she finds upon Nate's disappearance, she learns there is much about the past that she did not understand – and remained unsolved. Interestingly, the notebook is coded using a special code that Nate made up as a child that relies on his favorite books to decipher. As Chloe consults each book to untangle the code, she is reminded of special memories with her husband.

This book is a page-turner, as readers eagerly anticipate learning what really happened between Nate and Chloe and unravel the web of secrets linking them together. As the novel transitions between being told in past and present tense, readers will no doubt identify with the issues facing this couple. It's impossible not to root for Chloe and hope that she will find the answers she needs so she can have her happily-ever-after with Nate. If you're looking for an intricate, well-written tale, highlighted with mystery and love, don't miss this book!

Jennifer Harrington