The Secret

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Not to be confused with the best-selling self-help book from ten years ago, The Secret is the story of a haunted apartment building in the town of Vertigo, Montana.

Nine-year-old Jenna moved to Vertigo with her dad, and she develops a reluctant friendship with her downstairs neighbor, Jessie. The kids at school pick on Jessie for her unkempt appearance, but Jenna gives her less fortunate neighbor old clothing and a place to do laundry. Jenna lost her mom to suicide, and her dad’s new job with the Vertigo Police leaves Jenna home alone much of the time. A friend, albeit one in need of some hygiene pointers, may be just what Jenna needs.

Jessie’s family seems pleased with the friendship too, as they take a trip as soon as the girls hit it off, leaving Jenna with a sudden pseudo-sister. The timing is perfect for some sleepovers, the girls think, as they are intent on investigating the strange occurrences within their apartment building. The nights are hard to get through without disruption, and something seems to be eating the apartment building’s mice(!).

If The Secret’s strength is in its concept, its weakness is in its execution. Grammatical errors abound, and the sentences are often full of unnecessary information that doesn’t push the plot forward or reveal anything about the characters. I was unsure if this was intentional effort by the author to project the world of a nine-year-old or a lack of writing ability. Either way, the nine-year-old’s voice lacked consistency as Jenna’s narration sometimes seemed intentionally vague, and, at other times, included vocabulary or words of wisdom that sounded foreign for a kid.

The mystery of the building or town itself was often bogged down with the girls’ interaction and each step of their day-to-day life as they struggle to navigate school and friendship.


Hi Michael,

Thanks so much for allowing me to read and review your book The Secret, and please don’t feel that I took reviewing or rating your book lightly. I definitely try to give the best rating I can, as I myself try to write short stories and I have major respect for anyone who gets their writing out there.

That being said, I think that The Secret would benefit from an editor. There are grammatical errors throughout the book, and I think the basics of grammar and good sentence structure are pretty necessary to getting your story across to the reader. It is hard to absorb the story itself when the language is incorrect. I think an editor could also help your sentences, things like “I hadn’t even known she had moved” and “I walked back to the door that Jessie continued to stand in front of” just aren’t structured smoothly. I think editing can help with this, and reading lots of fiction can help with this. Also, studying the passive vs. active voice and deciding if you could edit your sentence structure based on that could help.

Secondly, I was confused about the voice you were using for the main narrator, as a nine-year-old. I think this is in part because of what I mentioned above, as the writing itself wasn’t too strong. I wasn’t sure if you were intentionally writing in a nine-year-old’s voice that sometimes got lost in larger vocabulary or at the end, with deep emotional issues about alcoholism. I do find Jenna’s struggle to be one of the most powerful aspects of the book—she seems perfect to the outwardly disheveled Jessie, but I think at the end a nine-year-old’s perception of her drinking might be much more simplistic than a vast contemplation of numbing her woes. I would try to take a stance on voice, what do nine-year-old girls sound like, and make sure you stay true to that throughout.

Finally, I think more tension could have been built up throughout the book regarding the actual spider/staying awake stuff. There was so much focus on what the girls were doing, getting through their social tensions, that this felt a bit like their own social drama rather than a horror novel. I didn’t need to see them tickling with their socks off, I needed to see them being afraid of something.

I would love to give you a higher rating because I know you paid for this review and I’m sure you worked very hard on your book, but it wouldn’t be fair to other paid reviews and our readers if I didn’t rate things honestly. I hope that you realize as coming from one writing to another, this feedback is intended as constructive criticism from a reader of your novel, and intended for you to find useful for your future writing.

Reviewed By:

Star Count 2/5
Format Trade
Page Count 224 pages
Publisher Shell Publishing
Publish Date 21-Jan-2015
ISBN Buy this Book
Issue May 2015
Category Horror


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