The Secret Keepers

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Secret Keepers Book Poster Image
Slow-building, clever mystery with invisibility and traps.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The chapter "Traps and More Traps" is a master class in perspective taking as Reuben deduces, one by one, where all the booby traps in a mansion are and why they would be put there. Reuben also demonstrates the best way to sneak around and not be noticed, with and without an invisibility watch.

Positive Messages

Fear can make people suspicious, lonely, and complicit, and overcoming it is empowering and brings people together. Greed also induces suspicion and loneliness. Trusting others brings connection. Family and friendships are important here. Kids are brave to accomplish a greater good.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Reuben begins as a loner character who doesn't want to be noticed and carefully guards his secret watch. When he decides to trust Penny with his secret, 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. He's the best kind of self-examining character in that he fears he may have too much in common with his enemy -- but doesn't -- and finds empathy for his enemy in the end. Penny is a great character all-round -- honest and forthright -- who doesn't show much growth herself, but brings Reuben out of his shell. Her brother, Jack, has a mischievous streak, "borrowing" cars and boats and lying when it serves him, but as he gets closer to sharing his true adventurous personality, his bravery and protectiveness toward his sister are essential for success.

Violence

The scariest bit involves a near-drowning in a labyrinth of island tunnels only open at low tide, with talk that ghosts of kids who have died in the tunnels can still be heard. There's also a chase with a baseball bat and a threat of knocking someone unconscious. Traps lead to a basement prison cell. A man falls unconscious, another drives recklessly. A brief mention that Reuben's father died in a factory accident and another mention of a man arrested and dying in prison, possibly from suicide. Talk of two brothers, centuries before, fighting a war and eventually killing each other to gain power.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man smokes a cigar; a woman drinks brandy.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBwelby August 18, 2018
Teen, 13 years old Written byKhili20062006 August 30, 2018
One of the best books I've ever read and it also has a lot of adventure.
Kid, 12 years old August 7, 2017

If you are looking for excitement...

This book I really liked! It was not as good as some of Trenton Lee Stewart's other books, but I still really liked it. It has a ton of mystery and raises... Continue reading

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?

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