Two Can Keep a Secret

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Two Can Keep a Secret Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Teen thriller is heavy on clichés, light on thrills.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 21 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Some information on true crime stories and how police investigations work. Crime books In Cold Blood, Fatal Vision, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and true crime author Ann Rule are mentioned.

Positive Messages

It's important to be honest with those closest to you. Secrets hurt relationships and destroy trust. Good friends are more important than popularity and status.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ellery, Ezra, Malcolm, and Mallory are good, honest kids. Even though they all have their own serious troubles, they help other people and are kind and trustworthy. Ellery and Ezra's grandma provides a loving, structured home for them.


Book centers on murders of and threats against teen girls. Bloody, broken body found in the road. Some verbal and physical bullying, including two bigger teens beating up a smaller one. Someone stalks and threatens teen girls, leaving scary messages with violent imagery. Gun pointed at teens.


Some kissing and making out. Adult character mentions losing her virginity in high school. Teens check out other teens, discuss their bodies and sexiness.


Some swearing but not frequent, including "f--k" and variations, "ass," "pissed," "God," "bitch," "s--t," "hell," "d--k," "Jesus," "bulls--t," "damn," "Christ," "crap," and "a--hole."


Brands and media mentioned for scene setting, including Instagram, YouTube, Skype, FaceTime, Netflix, Subaru, Nissan, BMW, Range Rover, Bose, L.L.Bean, Kind Bars, Coke, Doc Martens, Hot Topic, 7-Eleven, eBay, Dateline, and Law & Order.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A parent is in rehab for pill addiction. One character is known as the town drunk. Young adult of drinking age orders a drink in a bar. Teens sneak alcohol into school dance. Teen boy has one beer at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen M. McManus (One of Us Is Lying), is a mystery about popular teen girls who are murdered several years apart. Twins Ellery and Ezra move to a small northeastern town to live with their grandma when their mom is in rehab. The two past unsolved crimes have left a mark on the town, and when someone starts anonymously threatening the current homecoming court, the residents are gripped with fear. The book focuses on high school dynamics and small-town gossip. People whisper; popular girls and jocks bully the nerdy and unpopular. The story doesn't depict much in the way of drinking, and characters swear (including  "f--k" and "s--t" ) but not frequently. For a murder mystery novel, there isn't much violence depicted. The relationships of several families in the story provide discussion opportunities around family dynamics, especially how to confront painful family history and other uncomfortable topics.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byreadingteacher1 March 18, 2019

Appropriate Thriller

Two Can Keep A Secret takes YA readers into the world of Ellery and her detective/true-crime mind as she tries to uncover who keeps murdering Echo Ridge homecom... Continue reading
Adult Written byNelitae June 27, 2020

Super inappropriate content for young teens

Too much sexual content, especially of a grown man sleeping with teens and killing them when crap hits the fan. Teens making out and sexual comments by the tee... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byBaby Bri October 6, 2020

What I think.

I think its a really good book, but I think its appropriate for 13+ . its has some making out and words that younger kids dont need to be reading, just for the... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEm9045 September 14, 2020

Dark, Twisty Mystery for Teens

Awesome mystery for 14+. Murder, rape, and abuse are all frequent topics. Some partying, kissing, mentions of sex, but nothing 14+ can't handle.

What's the story?

In TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET, twins Ellery and Ezra suddenly have to move from Southern California to the small Vermont town of Echo Ridge. Their mom has been sent to rehab, and their grandmother is the only relative they have who can care for them. Echo Ridge is not just any quaint, pretty northeastern town, though. Their aunt disappeared when she was a senior in high school there, and another girl was murdered five years ago. Both deaths are still fresh in the minds of town residents, and when someone starts publicly threatening Ellery and two other girls, everyone wonders whether they have a copycat or serial killer in their midst. As Ellery and Ezra get to know the folks in town and learn more about the past crimes, another girl goes missing. Like many small towns, Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and rumors. Figuring out what's true and what's not is a big challenge in a place where everyone is a suspect and no one is safe.

Is it any good?

This teen murder thriller commits the crime of not being very thrilling. The premise of Two Can Keep a Secret is good: Two teens find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery very similar to crimes committed years earlier, and there's a good chance the killer is a town resident. The main characters are solid and engaging, and author Karen M. McManus doesn't give away too much and keeps readers guessing until the end. Some of the plot points provide a good look at survivor's guilt and how it can damage lives. Unfortunately, the story unfolds too slowly and isn't exciting or tense enough.

Part of the problem is that the story has too many characters, which doesn't give McManus enough space to give them depth or make them intriguing. In fact, so many names are introduced in the first few chapters, it can be hard to keep track. Aside from the four main characters -- Ellery, Ezra, Malcolm, and Mia -- all the other characters are broad clichés: snobby, rich, popular girls; football-player jocks who are violent bullies;  a rich, powerful dad. McManus uses alternating points of view to tell the story, switching narration between Ellery and her friend Malcolm. This technique doesn't work well here, because their voices aren't written differently enough to be distinctive, and sometimes they don't alternate chapters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the power of gossip as shown in Two Can Keep a Secret. Do you ever judge people based on appearances or stories you've heard about them? Has there been a time when you got to know someone and found out he or she was different from what you first thought?

  • Books with chapters that alternate narrators are quite popular. Why do you think this storytelling style works or doesn't?

  • Why do you think books and movies about murder are so popular? What makes you seek them out?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and thrillers

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