Under Cover Research, a guest post by Daphne Benedis-Grab
According to Matt,* a fourth grader at my school who often pops into the library to chat, I am a spy. I am also being spied on. This is because my future self knows what my past self has done and is doing right this minute. I love Matt because he says magnificent things that get me thinking in new ways, and also because in this case he explained in a nutshell how I research my books: I spy on my past self.
I decided to write a thriller because I have adored a good thriller my whole life. I discovered Lois Duncan when I was ten and devoured everything she wrote. I reread ‘Stranger with my Face’ so many times the cover fell off. But to actually create plot and characters, I needed to do some serious spying on Past Me.
The premise for ‘I Know Your Secret’ is that four seventh graders receive a series of texts ordering them to follow instructions or else their deepest secrets will be revealed. I came up with the heart of the premise by spying on Tween Me and recalling my love of the movie THE BREAKFAST CLUB. I have some issues with the movie now but at that time in my life it was a revelation: a group of disparate teens in trouble who slowly build trust as they sneak around their school and attempt to outwit the person who is attempting to control their actions. I also stole the timeline: ‘I Know Your Secret’ takes place entirely within in a single school day.
Ally, Todd, Gemma and Owen are also born of Past Me. Ally is adopted from Kazakhstan like both my children, and like them she has had to confront microaggressions about “real” family. She’s also a huge animal lover like both Past and Present Me. Todd is based on a friend I had back in middle school. I grew up in a white, working class town where my family stuck out a bit because we were middle class. Todd* came from an underprivileged family and often arrived at school messy and unkempt. He had acted out early on, and all of these things quickly earned the him the label of a “bad” kid. But Todd not a “bad” kid- he was an insightful, whip smart, fun kid who had some struggles going on that no one chose to help him figure out. I was too young and self-involved to ever find out his real story so in ‘I Know Your Secret’ I imagined my own version of his life, pulling from another part of my past: depression suffered by people in my family. And in ‘Secret’ Todd gets something I hope the real Todd found one day: people to understand and support him in his struggles.
Gemma is who Past Me wanted to be: confident and comfortable in her own skin, able to speak up for herself and others, and a very sleek dresser. To be honest I still aspire to fully embody these traits. And Owen is based on characteristics I’ve had all my life: the inability to say the right thing at the right time, excitement at adventure (even when that excitement irritates others) and profound desire for people to get along.
With premise and characters in place, the next step was figuring out how they built upon and impacted each other. The plot required unexpected turns, a confounding mystery and a clock ticking down to the moment where it either all comes together or all falls apart. But none of that would matter if the characters weren’t growing and changing as each event took place. For that essential piece I spied on a more recent version of me: my librarian self.
I work at a K-5th grade public school in Brooklyn with an incredibly diverse population of kids. During library lessons and during book selection I am both witness to and participant in their dynamics. I hear banter that turns into genuine baring of the soul, and arguments and struggles that injure. I meet kids who start off the school year cursing at me, only to share their secrets with me four weeks later. I wanted ‘I Know Your Secret’ to have all of that : banter, arguments, hard problems, soul baring and the incredible trust that can be born between surprising people in surprising ways.
When I spy on Past Me, the one who sat down with these ideas and story elements with hopes of writing a book, I am happy for her, for the fun and discovery that will come with writing ‘I Know Your Secret.’ Yes, she will get frustrated and struggle and have to do an awful lot of editing. But like my characters, she gets to grow in the hard moments and have people around her to support the journey. And of course I also wonder what Future Me sees when she spies on current me as I begin work on my next middle grade thriller, what surprises and challenges lie ahead. Perhaps there is a way to ask her- I’ll have to ask Matt the next time he pops into the library for a chat!
Meet the author
Daphne Benedis-Grab is the author of the middle grade novel The Angel Tree and the young adult novel Alive and Well in Prague, New York. Her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine. She earned an MFA at The New School and is an adjunct professor at McDaniel College. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two kids, and a cat who has been known to keep her computer warm while she is away from her desk.
Official website: https://daphnebg.com/
About I Know Your Secret
One of Us is Lying meets Pretty Little Liars for middle-grade readers.
The email arrives Sunday night: Do exactly what I say, when I say it, or I will reveal your secret.
On Monday morning, seventh graders Owen, Gemma, Ally, and Todd, who have nothing in common and barely know each other, must work together and follow the instructions of an anonymous blackmailer. None of them want to go along with the blackmailer’s instructions, but each of them have a secret they must protect at all costs.
Set during a single day of school, the students race against the clock to complete a disquieting set of tasks, with fast-paced chapters detailing each moment of the day interspersed with a later interview-style recording made by the quartet.
I Know Your Secret is an exploration of why we conceal the truth, how far we’ll go to keep it hidden, and the power of being honest.
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 12/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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