If you were asked to keep a potential life-threatening secret, could you do it? What if it was your own mother who asked and you were only a teenager? What if the secret involved left you with more questions than answers? In Diana Altman’s We Never Told (She Writes Press), this is exactly the situation that Sonya Adler and her sister, Joan, are forced into when their mother’s dark secret is revealed.
This secret leaves teenage girls Sonya and Joan without a mother for several months. The daughters have few details on her absence so they let their imaginations lead them to their own conclusions. “The Secret” is kept because it never really occurs to them to do anything other than what their mother asks. However, secrets always have a way of coming out and when Sonya comes across the intimate details of her mother’s secret, she uncovers an entirely new version of the truth and is left with more questions than she ever thought possible. Even worse, no one seems to want to find the answers as desperately as she does so she is left to search on her own.
Diana Altman’s story unfolds with Sonya accidentally discovering the truth about the secret she has kept her whole life. This revelation triggers flashbacks to recount her life story, beginning with childhood. Narrated by Sonya, much of the book is spent insightfully revealing strange family dynamics, allowing the reader to speculate justification for the “secret.” Sonya’s mother, Violet, is a repeated focus in her story. As we watch both of these characters develop in the novel, it seems that they are much more alike than either one of them would want to admit.
Violet is married to Seymour, a famous movie producer 20 years her senior, and despite the societal shame that will come with getting a divorce, Violet is determined to follow through in what is deemed unacceptable. Coming from a wealthy family, Violet has always gotten exactly what she wants and never been concerned with the outcome or consequences of her many rash decisions. Violet has no problem asking her family for money and pointing out that she should have no less than any of her other siblings. Set in the 1950s, you’re left questioning whether Violet is struggling to conform or if she’s actually rebelling against the “role” of women at the time? Is she simply irresponsible or does she allow her deep passions to dictate her behavior?
After Sonya realizes her mother’s plan to divorce her father, she also struggles with the shame of what others will think. As her story continues, she seems to struggle with trying to live a life completely different from what she knew with Violet. However, she cannot seem to find complete happiness and is always somehow involved in Violet’s next great idea. As Sonya eventually starts to put the pieces of Violet’s life together she also realizes she must deal with her own demons involving anger, jealousy and disappointment.
This book ends where it started and I felt like the storyline was complete with the closure I craved. It was easy to follow and as the story starts to unfold revealing complicated family dynamics and more developed characters, I really wanted to keep reading. There were not really any unexpected twists or turns with the plot but I also didn’t feel the story needed them to be enjoyable. The characters in the book are real and relatable and I found myself in a love/hate relationship with each of them at different times. This book will speak to many for all the secrets we’ve kept, secrets we couldn’t keep, and secrets we wished we never knew.
We Never Told is now available for purchase.
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ABOUT DIANA ALTMAN:
Diana Altman is the author of Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the origins of the studio system, a book of film history still quoted in movie star biographies. Her novel In Theda Bara’s Tent was described by Publishers Weekly as “enthralling.” Her latest novel, We Never Told, was compared to Wally Lamb and received 5-stars on Booklist. Her short stories have appeared in Trampset, The Notre Dame Review, StoryQuarterly, Cumberland River Review, and The Sea Letter. She has written for the New York Times, Yankee, Boston Herald, Forbes, and elsewhere. Diana is a member of PEN, The Author’s Guild, and the Women’s National Book Association. She’s a graduate of Connecticut College and Harvard University and lives in New York City.
We Never Told: Set in the era when unmarried women were shamed into relinquishing their newborns, We Never Told is a slice of American history that haunts us today. Those babies given up at birth did not disappear. They grew up and went searching. Today middle-aged strangers are confronting some families eager to embrace them and others that still don’t want them. Sonya is determined to unearth her glamorous mother’s secret, but when she does, she discovers that her mother was hiding something worse than those around her could ever have imagined.
For more information on Diana Altman, visit her website.