Important Background Info:
The Secret Keepers is a stand-alone book written by Trenton Lee Stewart, the author of The Mysterious Benedict Society.
The Secret Keepers is about a boy named Reuben who lives in a city called New Umbra – a city unofficially ruled (because no one talks about it openly) by an unseen menace called the Smoke. The Smoke has run the city to the ground, sending his Directions out to patrol the streets, or summoning people to meet with the Counselor if he thinks they have information he wants.
Reuben loves to hide, and to climb and to explore. One day, while doing just that, he discovers a beautiful yet unusual watch, hidden carefully on a building ledge high above the street below. Hoping to use it to provide for himself and his mother, Ruben brings the watch to an antique shop, only to discover that there are some very powerful – and dangerous – people after his watch. Following a clue on the watch case, Reuben travels to Point William to meet the Meyer family – an incredibly good, larger than life family who has waited decades for this to happen. After learning the secret behind the watch, Reuben realizes he’s become embroiled in something bigger than himself.
With the help of Penny and Jack Meyer, as well as Mrs. Genevieve, a gentle old watchmaker, Reuben sets out to bring down the Smoke, and put to rest a secret that’s been haunting the world.
What I liked:
I like Trenton Lee Stewart’s books. He is a talented children’s author, and when I was younger my favorite series was The Mysterious Benedict Society. So, when I discovered he had written another book, I was thrilled to read it.
The Secret Keepers felt like a Trenton Lee Stewart book. It has somewhat of the same style of writing, and the book make use of noticing things many people wouldn’t.
The characters are in their positions because they’re different from those around them. Reuben notices things others don’t. He can hide, and clim and explore better than others. It’s what he spends his time doing instead of normal eleven-year-old pursuits. He carries far more concerns than the average eleven-year-old, worrying about and feeling protective over his mother. Because of his unique talents he found the watch, and because of his desire to provide for himself and his mother by selling it, he finds himself in this mess.
Penny is a Meyer, and the Meyer family is known for being different. First off, they’ve been guarding a secret for generations (and doing such a good job, no one outside the Meyer’s knows about it), and second, they are known for being a morally good family (almost irritatingly good). They never drink wine, lie or cheat, everyone eats properly, exercises, is helpful, etc. They’ve kept this up despite being teased, because they know that this object is powerful, and whichever Meyer it comes to must be morally upright to properly handle and destroy it.
Jack Meyer is different from the rest of the Meyers. He’s a liar, a thief, an incomparable actor, and has a desperate longing to escape. It’s because of this that these three end up on this adventure. There are other characters get roped in because of their difference – Mrs. Genevieve refuses to be an informant to the Directions because she knows it would be helping further wrong, and Officer Warren, who doesn’t look the other way when the government steals from and hurts people.
Many characters make the decision to do what is right, even at a cost.
Reuben wrestles with right and wrong at a point in the story. He knows that stealing from the Directions would be wrong, but he also knows that the Directions have been stealing that money from business owners. Reuben despises them, but he isn’t quite sure he wants anything awful to happen to them, either, because he knows they are people with lives of their own.
Reuben very clearly loves his mother dearly, a lot of what he does is motivated by his desire to keep her safe.
For all that Jack is, he very clearly loves his little sister, and would do almost anything for her. He stays in a place he longs to escape for her, and he goes to help Reuben and Penny because of Penny.
Trenton Lee Stewart is talented at writing characters, including details about them a lot of authors might forget. For example, despite how different than other eleven-year-olds Reuben seems, Trenton Lee Stewart still makes his age noticeable in the things he imagines, or occasionally says, or how he feels.
Content Concerns/Things to know:
Please note that I read laser focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
This book isn’t a Christian book. There does seem to be the idea that someone or something has planned out what’s happening.
Fate is mentioned, and it’s said that a city was born under a promising star, and that someone else’s promising star fell.
Mrs. Genevieve goes to a church to get help, and Reuben hides among a group of youth from a church to remain unnoticed.
The secret of the clock comes from an alchemist who created a type of metal that could bend light, and legend held that whoever had both clocks would live forever (that proved to be untrue).
Doesn’t really exist in The Secret Keepers. Penny kisses the top of Rueben’s head (in a motherly I-just-gave-you-a-lecture-but-I-still-care-for-you way), and holds his hand (Penny is being motherly).
Mrs. Meyer makes a joke about Ruben being a little young to propose marriage.
Nothing really. There is a chase with Ruben and the Smoke, but practically no actual fighting.
The word “dickens” is used.
God’s name is taken in vain three times.
There’s an unfinished exclamation of “holy -“
“Gee” is used once.
It’s said that Jack “swore under his breath,” but no actual words are used.
Someone says that they will “rain holy fire” on people.
An Island is named Devil’s Waste (or Waist)
When Jack catches up with them as they’re trying to leave, it is raining, and he tells them to turn their heads so he can change. Ruben asks if he’s going to be naked. Jack says no.
Other things to know:
Reuben doesn’t tell his mother the truth about a lot of things, and a lot of it is because he really cares for and loves his mom, and doesn’t want to worry her or make things worse for her (though some of it is probably because he doesn’t want her to tell him to stop). He actually goes so far as to wash his dirty clothing before she comes back, so she doesn’t know he was exploring the city. He lies to others as well, to either keep the watch a secret or make it seem like he isn’t on his own.
He helps the building manager befriend a cat that she isn’t supposed to.
Ruben is a very shy, lonely and sad character, and it causes him to hold on to his secrets and not share them. Having the clock makes him feel powerful, and he has a hard time admitting to his new friends that there are weaknesses involved.
There is somewhat the theme of “don’t tell the parents (or adults), the don’t know or can’t figure it out – it’s something only we can do.” They do end up telling one adult, who does help them.
After fainting, someone drinks a little brandy.
While the rest of the Meyer family is more morally upstanding than most people on this earth, Jack is the complete opposite. He lies, he steals, and he knows how to change his demeanor to appear trustworthy (which he does with Mrs. Genevieve and ten the police). Jack is a complicated character. He’s incredibly angry, but has a fierce love for his family. He grew up being teased for doing what’s right, the watched as his little brother did, and finally his little sister. He’s mad at everyone for teasing his family, and mad at his family for seeming weird. It’s said he “lost it” and now no one would want to be his enemy or friend. He poses a rough exterior to everyone (including cuffing Reuben’s head at one point in time for no reason). He also speeds and steals (cars or boats, which, if I remember right, he returns) though it’s not painted in a great light.
The original Jack Meyer kept a secret from his wife because it had been drilled into his head as a child that he not tell anyone. He did end up telling her, and it was the only secret he’d ever kept. Penny has to promise to keep the watch secret from her family before Reuben tells her about it.
Reuben’s plan was to have him and Penny sneak onto a train to get out of town without leaving a trail. Penny protested that that was wrong, and said she was going to purchase a ticket afterward, to make up for it. Fortunately, they’re picked up by Jack instead.
When Reuben is inside a dark cave, he gets frightened and imagines that he is surrounded by the ghosts of drowned children.
When they were discussing the clock, Mrs. Genevieve remembers a story about a madman who ran through the streets of the Lower Downs (the poorest section of New Umbra) at a crouch (as if he was being chased), disappearing and reappearing, ranting and screaming until he was arrested. He went to prison, and it’s said he dies shortly after or either a heart attack or suicide.
The Secret Keepers is a series both enjoyable, and layered enough that you can think about the story. It has wonderful characters, an enjoyable plot, and is clean (aside from God’s name being taken in vain). I recommend reading this story. 🙂
Reuben isn’t honest with his mom about what he does during the day. Why do you think this is?
The Meyer family is really, really good because they need to be in case Penelope’s secret comes to them. What is the basis for our morality? Why do we try to “be good?” Can we even “be good” on our own?
What would you do if you had a clock that turned you invisible?
When Reuben had the clock, it made him feel powerful and caused him to have a hard time admitting its weaknesses to the team. Why do you think this is?
Why do you think Reuben likes to explore and play hide and seek?
Why do you think Jack acts the way he does?
Please note that using my affiliate links to buy items from Amazon helps me and costs you nothing!
Not included ‘cuz God’s name is taken in vain.
Taken from the author’s website, which you can visit here.
“When Reuben discovers an extraordinary antique watch with a secret power, his life takes an intriguing turn. As one secret leads to another, Reuben finds himself torn between his honest nature and the lure to be a hero.
Now he is on a dangerous adventure—full of curious characters, treacherous traps, and hairsbreadth escapes–as he races to solve the mystery before it is too late. With fearless Penny, mighty Jack, and the wise Mrs. Genevieve on his side, can Reuben outwit a sly villain called The Smoke and save the city from a terrible fate?
In this ingeniously crafted novel, Trenton Lee Stewart invites readers to join the adventure, decipher the clues, and ask themselves the question: Is knowing a secret a gift or a curse?”