Book Review: What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards
A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later
Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.
Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.
Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…
It’s interesting in the blurb above that this book is described as a “pulse-pounding romantic thriller” because as I read this, I was moved repeatedly by the way this book talks about a variety of current and pressing issues, including the opioid crisis, domestic violence and teen homelessness. Make no mistake, What You Hide is a thrilling read and there definitely is some budding romance, but I thought this book also did a sublime job of talking about real issues in meaningful ways in the context of this “pulse-pounding romantic thriller”.
As I was reading this book, I was actually working at a public library in the state of Ohio and we had a teen coming in daily that we knew was homeless. So this book was very real and pressing to me; it had a palpable urgency to me as I went home at night to read this book and then returned to work each day and talked to a teen that I knew had slept outside the library, tucked away in a corner trying to stay safe and unnoticed. I actually reached out to Richards and asked her some concrete ways to help this teen as I knew she must have learned things researching this novel and she was gracious enough to give me some leads. We did end up connecting this teen with several resources and I am thankful to be able to share with you that he also got a job. Working with homeless teens is always a horrific reminder of the various ways in which our society fails our children.
What You Hide also does a really good job of presenting some solid examples of domestic violence that is more psychologically than it is physically abusive, and I appreciated this important revelation. Tucked in here is also some hardcore truths about addiction and the current opioid crisis, which is hitting Ohio pretty hard so it seems fitting that the author included this in the context of this particular story as well. All of these issues are brought to light and revealed in authentic ways that don’t hit the reader over the head but also show the ways issues become tangled up in other issues and they feed upon and work with each other to bring a teen to the place where fear, desperation and a lack of options leads them to a life lived on the streets, or tucked inside a closed library.
One of the other things that I think that Richards does so well is present us with a variety of teens who are trying to figure out who they are and balance that with parental expectations and the stress that comes with trying, and often failing, to meet those expectations. This is made most clear in the story of Spencer, who is literally standing (well, lying) still because he can’t figure out how to move forward in healthy ways as who wants to be does not align with what he feels his parents want him to be. I loved the character of Spencer and felt that his dilemma was both poignant and all too real. This was the most spot on representation of one of the primary challenges of adolescence and I felt that every teen reading this book would be able to relate to and identify the conversations that these teens are having about growing up and trying to figure out what next steps to take.
What You Hide is a love letter to libraries and the feelings of acceptance and belonging they bring to a community, which is not surprising because Richards herself works in a library. Every nook and cranny of this library felt authentic, affirming, and inspiring. There are hidden places, local history, and the possibility of ghosts – and who doesn’t love the idea of a haunted library? I mean, I don’t want to work in a haunted library, but the setting makes for a great story.
Then there is Mallory, a strong, fierce, determined but lost young lady trying to convince her mom to leave a man that she sees as abusive who finds herself alone on the streets. She takes refuge in the library, hiding until it closes and hoping to find a few moments of warmth and safety. Even as Mallory reaches out and tries to find help in her situation, we see all the obstacles that minors trying to find a respite from a storm at home experience. There are rules and regulations that make finding help so very hard to do, and they leave Mallory in some of the most vulnerable situations. As her hunger grows and her desperation builds, we learn more and more about what life is like for a homeless teen and the desperation they feel. Mallory’s story will break your heart.
This is an interesting book because it presents itself as a thriller, but it asks you to think deeply by revealing harsh truths in the midst of this mystery. Unlike the problem novels of the 90s (yes, I’m that old) that hit you over the head with their after school special like messages, Richards peels back the layers on issues while entertaining with a thrilling mystery that may or may not be a ghost story set in a library that may or may not be haunted, and it is a satisfying read that leaves you thinking of the many challenges teens today are facing. It’s a bold move, a trusting one that respects teen readers and understands that a book can be many things at once. It also reminds us that teens are indeed facing a variety of hard pressing issues, almost always at the same time, and they are often ill equipped and unprepared to deal with them and the very systems that are there to support them are ham-stringed by rules and regulations that put the most vulnerable of them at further risk. Don’t let the cover or the marketing fool you, this is a deep, thoughtful novel that genuinely explores teen life.
I highly recommend this novel for teens and anyone who cares about teens. It’s more than an entertaining thriller, its a deeply contemplative exploration of teen life today that moves the reader.
Themes and topics covered: Homelessness, domestic violence, coming of age, addiction, poverty and socio-economic challenges, the U.S. opioid crisis
Published December 4 by Sourcefire Books
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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