A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret Keepers is by Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the best-selling Mysterious Benedict Society series. Like that series, The Secret Keepers is a great fit for bright wannabe spies. With a watch that can render its keeper invisible, there's much opportunity for mischief, but the violence stays very light. The only weapon nearly wielded is a baseball bat. The scariest bit involves a near drowning in a labyrinth of island tunnels open only at low tide, with talk that ghosts of kids who have died in the tunnels can still be heard. The main character, Reuben, begins as a loner, but once he decides to trust a girl named Penny with the secret of his watch, his outlook changes quickly and he begins to connect with others and work to protect them. Also, he adores his hardworking, financially struggling widowed mom and feels bad when he has to lie to her. Positive messages in The Secret Keepers abound. The most powerful is that fear can make people suspicious, lonely, and complicit, and overcoming fear is empowering and brings people together.
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What's the story?
In THE SECRET KEEPERS, it's summer and 11-year-old Reuben doesn't have a lot to do when his mom heads off to one of her jobs in the city. He's a loner who likes to sneak around town like a spy and find ways not to be noticed. One day he's in a very narrow alley avoiding the attention of mafia-like enforcers called the Directions (there are four in a group, each facing a different way), and decides to climb as high as he can. Up on a ledge he finds a mysterious package and nearly falls trying to bring it down. A watch is inside, but it's not like any watch he's ever seen -- beyond the strange metal, it only has one hand. In hopes of helping with rent money, Reuben takes it to jewelry shops in the nice part of town to see what he can get for it. No one wants to give a kid a fair price, and he almost gives up when he spots a small clock-repair shop near the train station. He's lucky he does, because the proprietor, Mrs. Genevieve, warns Reuben days later when the Directions come looking for him. And after experimenting with the watch on his own, Reuben figures out why: The watch gives him 15 minutes of invisibility each time he winds it. The Directions are surely after it for their boss, the Smoke, a powerful force in the city to be feared. Knowing the danger the whole city will be in if he hands over the watch, Reuben follows a lead inscribed on the watch's case: "P. William Lighthouse." Not the name of a person, he discovers, but a lighthouse north of the city. There he meets the keepers of the lighthouse and discovers how far back the secrets of this mysterious watch go.
Is it any good?
Clever, thoughtful readers who are patient with slow-building stories will be rewarded beyond measure with this world of invisibility watches, booby-trapped mansions, and well-guarded family secrets. The Secret Keepers has that feel of a superhero origin story at the beginning, as Reuben figures out how to wield his new power of invisibility. It shifts gears when Reuben heads toward the lighthouse to figure out the watch's secrets. Enter Penny and her eccentric family who run the lighthouse. If you've read author Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society, you know how great he is at developing eccentric characters. Reuben's refusal to trust them right away makes for the slowest part of the book.
It takes some real nail-biting danger to get Reuben to come around and find his partners in crime. Penny is the perfect predictable sidekick, and her devil-may-care brother Jack is a wonderful surprise. Even as the conclusion fills with booby traps and some major sleuthing genius, the story stays just as thoughtful. We get to feel for the loneliness of the enemy, the Smoke, through Reuben's eyes as he tours the Smoke's home. We ponder along with Reuben what the power he holds can do in the wrong hands. The Secret Keepers is one of those books you can read multiple times and still discover a new layer.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about all the cool traps in The Secret Keepers. How does thinking how the Smoke would think help Reuben find them? Why is that kind of thinking such a good skill for a detective or a spy? When is that skill useful to the rest of us?
Compare the dream homes Reuben and his mom draw to the Meyers' lighthouse and the Smoke's mansion. What does Reuben realize about the Smoke's mansion? What's missing?
If you've read any of The Mysterious Benedict Society, how is The Secret Keepers similar? What marks these characters as ones you expect author Trenton Lee Stewart to create?
- Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
- Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publishers: Little, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: September 27, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 512
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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