ABOUT A BOOK #01: INTRODUCTION, PLUS MY REVIEW OF DIANA URBAN’S ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS.
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Greetings and bienvenue, all.
Welcome to the first installment in a little project that I’ve decided to collectively dub About a Book. These segments are going to serve as my personal reviews of books that I have read. (Those of you who've followed my blog since its inception won’t be surprised by my announcement of a serialized book-reviewing effort. I made clear in my inaugural post that this blog of mine would cover a rather wide range of topics and serve multiple purposes near and dear to my heart.)
While I’m introducing this subset of my main blog, I’ll take the chance to enumerate that these About a Book reviews aren’t going to be about my books but those of other authors. Also, the books that I review won’t necessarily be of any set genre. I read and enjoy books of all sorts: Young Adult and Adult Mystery, Thriller, Memoir, Sci Fi, Horror, Fantasy, Dystopia, et cetera. About a Book will accordingly comprise a melting pot of reviews for books on all parts of the literary spectrum. The uniting factor is that they’ll all be books that I’ve read and want to discuss or review or just criticize—because I dislike them or love them or just because they make me think.
I’m not necessarily setting out to review the newest books on the market or the most publicized or the best selling. Some of the titles that I review will be months to years old, while some will be newer. Some will be commercially popular, while some will be more obscure.
My reviews will contain mild to medium spoilers. (I’ll try to remember to sound off a spoiler warning before each review; but in case I don’t, I’m letting you know now.) Each will also consist of a brief summary of the book, the review, and my brass-tacks rating ranging from one to five cronuts—which I love, despite having never had the pleasure to enjoy one. 😋😋😋
Much like with the installments of my general blog, I’m not planning any specific timetable for my About a Book entries, so they won’t be dropping on any preplanned schedule. I will, however, update my Twitter and Instagram accounts each time I drop a new review, so my followers there will know. I’ll also be updating as many as have subscribed to my mailing list by email.
Which brings me to today’s final pre-book-review point. IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND HAVEN’T ALREADY, YOU’D BETTER SUBSCRIBE TO MY MAILING LIST RIGHT FRIGGIN’ NOW! I’ll even make it easy for you: just click HERE to get started. And I’ll sweeten the deal too. When you subscribe, you’ll get a FREE copy of my debut Young Adult Mystery novel, The Women in White.
With that in mind and without further ado, as follows is my inaugural About a Book entry. It is a review of Diana Urban’s debut Young Adult novel, a Mystery/Thriller called All Your Twisted Secrets.
Title: All Your Twisted Secrets
Author: Diana Urban
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: 17 March 2020
Page Length: 400 (Hardcover)
Reading Age: 14 – 17 years
*BE WARNED: MILD TO MEDIUM SPOILERS FOLLOW*
• SUMMARY •
All Your Twisted Secrets opens as 17-year-old music enthusiast and aspiring film composer Amber Prescott prepares to attend a mysterious dinner for scholarship recipients to which she and her longtime boyfriend, an aspiring baseball star named Robbie, have been invited by mail. The dinner is to be held in a particular room in the basement (now renovated as a sterling restaurant) of a high-end retail space.
Amber drives to the dinner alongside Robbie, which creates silent tension for Amber because she knows that she means to soon break up with Robbie due to his rabidly toxic insistence that she shelve her career dreams and follow him to college as he pursues his own goals of baseball superstardom. When Amber and Robbie arrive at the dinner, they find that four of their other classmates—Sasha, Scott, Diego, and Priya—are also in the room, having been invited to the scholarship dinner.
Amber has a deep history with each of them.
1. Sasha is a sadistic and manipulative Queen Bee whose machinations have ruined Amber’s relationship with Priya.
2. Priya is Amber’s former best friend whom Amber lost in a bid to impress Sasha as a part of an elaborate plan to pad her résumé for college music program applications.
3. Scott is a stoner and drug dealer who Amber knows has been secretly dealing to Sasha and whom Amber dislikes because of his habitual crush on Priya.
4. Diego is another former friend (and strong potential love interest) to Amber, despite that Amber had purposefully cut him out of her life because of his father’s business-partnership betrayal of her father.
It isn’t long before all six people realize that the dinner invitation was a ruse and that they’re all locked in an escape-proof sauna of a room with a syringe of what appears to be poison, a device that appears to be a bomb, a timer with an hourlong fuse, and a note explaining that they must pick one of their number to die by the syringe within the hour or forfeit all of their lives to the bomb.
At first, they go through the basic teenage motions of disbelief, mockery, and snark. Then, as the time grows shorter and shorter, the aura of pettiness gives way to a more authentic wave of pure terror as they pool their heads to determine who would ever want one or more of them dead—and, more importantly, whom they should pick to die in order to save the others.
• MY REVIEW •
This book, despite its catchy and interesting premise, didn’t seem particularly inspired to me. Mind you, that’s not to say that it wasn’t a generally fun and even (at times) surprising and moving read. But it really didn’t seem to me to add very much to its kind.
What do I mean by that?
Well, by my math, books of the kind that include All Your Twisted Secrets either began or experienced a major 21st-century resurgence soon after the 2017 release of Karen M. McManus’s debut Young Adult Mystery/Thriller novel One of Us is Lying.
That novel revolves around five sundry main characters who walk into detention together, only for one to keel over and die soon after. The investigators conclude that the death was not an accident. The dead kid had been planning to reveal juicy, ruinous secrets about each of the four survivors the next day. Each of the four had a history with the dead kid, as well as motives for murder and MANY secret sins that they definitely don’t want exposed. Yet only by airing and coming to terms with their dirty laundry can the survivors solve the death, save themselves from suspicion, identify the real murderer, and grow individually and collectively.
I have my fair share of issues with OOUIL, but the novel did a masterful job of presenting a compelling take on what has, since its release, become something of a fixated storytelling formula in Young Adult Mystery and Thriller novels.
Several troubled, diverse, foul-mouthed, generally horny teenagers—each of whom brings some sort of dark secret or hidden truth to the party—are sucked into trying circumstances under which they must solve a mystery in order to save their own skins from some dark fate. Along the way, each of the teens is forced to confront his or her many secret sins and personal issues. Most probably, the metastasizing fallout of one or more of the group’s sins or issues is the reason for why the group faces its current crisis. Confronting those sins and issues is the protagonists’ key to both solving the crisis and transforming from basically crap human beings into better people by the end of the novel. Oh, and the novel also usually attempts to tackle heavy and triggering subject matter such as suicide, peer pressure, acceptance, gender and sexuality, mental health, substance abuse, and other hot-button concepts that’ll draw the “woke” millennial’s interest.
OOUIL stands out to me as the first book to take that concept, which I do believe was new enough at the time, and run with it. Maybe other novels did it before. Maybe it was a trend that fizzled out and burst back with OOUIL. Maybe it’s always been around and OOUIL just did it well enough to make it eminently more popular. Either way, OOUIL did a (relatively) fine job of using this concept to weave a masterfully developed character-driven mystery that includes a sobering amount of commentary on just what it means to be an American teen looking for security and validation in today’s world.
But since OOUIL’s release, I’ve noticed a trend in YA Mysteries and Thrillers to basically repeat the same idea but with just enough of a twist that the new book stands maybe a few feet apart from the growing number of similar works. And as one might’ve predicted from examining the now-burned-out magic craze in YA novels following Harry Potter’s success or the now-burned-out vampire craze following Twilight’s, this new trend has fast become a game of diminishing returns. Most of these OOUIL-lite books end up as largely reductive takes on the original premise.
All Your Twisted Secrets goes down to me as just another such outing—which, I suppose, is no real surprise when the book’s very blurb categorizes it as “reminiscent” of, among other works, One of Us is Lying.
Mind you, All Your Twisted Secrets does have enough enjoyable differences and unique elements that it is distinguishable from the herd.
(A.) The chapters are lain out in an alternating Then/Now format following the protagonists over an hour in real time as they attempt to solve their main predicament while reminiscing on thirteen months of history that have essentially driven them to the point at which the main mystery begins. Half the chapters occur between thirteen months and four hours prior to the story, half occur between fifty-nine minutes and five seconds before the bomb is set to explode, and one end chapter occurs thirty-five minutes after the clock has run out. Time-structured chapter headings help build an impending sense of dread and urgency in the novel, as well as draw the reader in as a virtual participant in the unfolding tale.
(B.) The entire story is told through Amber Prescott’s first-person lens. Developments that affect other main characters are presented as they relate to Amber and her internal world. That provides a bit more singular focus in storytelling than you’d expect from similar novels in which three or more main characters tell a story in alternating chapters and basically vie for the reader’s attention.
(C.) Diana Urban makes brilliant use of the “unreliable narrator” device to deliver a twist ending that most readers likely wouldn’t see coming unless they’d been paying VERY careful attention to the diction throughout the entire book—most particularly, the last fourth.
Each of these differences and unique elements, however, comes with its own set of very serious problems.
(A.) The Present/Past story style gives Diana Urban a very easy out to tell versus show the reader key elements of the intricate history of relationships that led the main characters into their present-day crisis. And it’s an out that Urban takes every last time. Relational dynamics that are of great importance in the present-set chapters are spelled out repeatedly during the past-set chapters—which are conveniently inserted the second that they become relevant to the present-day bomb/syringe crisis.
(B.) Using a single voice to tell a story starring six people is helpful in maintaining a focused narrative, but it also risks underservicing the arcs of the other five leads. Urban, unfortunately, doesn’t quite rise to the challenge here. Amber is interesting enough, but the use of her exclusive voice really limits how much development and agency the other five get to that which AMBER HERSELF envisions that they received.
(C.) The unreliable narrator device worked pretty well to deliver a twist ending that I suspect only the sharpest of readers could predict. But that ending was then completely undone within the book’s last chapter, making for a *TRUE* ending to the story that felt tacked on and unsatisfying, given that the entire book had been a buildup to the twist ending.
All Your Twisted Secrets, as seems to be par for the course amongst its kind, also tackles its fair share of potentially triggering subject matter, including suicide, mental health, Internet bullying, peer pressure, popularity, drug abuse, and domestic violence. But while it explores those subjects with reasonable competence, in my opinion, it doesn’t handle them as well as some preceding novels of like kind have, and the answers that it offers seem far more open-ended and far less optimistic.
In the end, I found All Your Twisted Secrets to be a reasonably entertaining and well-structured affair but one that doesn’t add anything particularly new or interesting to the suite of similar works of its kind. It truly is a mixed bag. A decent lazy-Saturday read.
• MY RATING •
I give Diana Urban's All Your Twisted Secrets a solid 3/5 cronuts.