Anita Horrocks has done it again. In her second novel for young adults, she has written a compelling, good-to-the-last-page story for teens and about teens. Narrator Kelly Farrell is a seventeen-year-old honours student who begins by telling us: "Most of the story is about Hannah, after all, not me. She's the one solidly at the center of things while I watch from around the edges."
Kelly learns that the edges in family life are blurred: the behaviour of one person dramatically impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Kelly's younger sister, Hannah, is on a slippery path to self-destruction. She is consumed by anger and self-loathing and her already fragile family is disintegrating right along with her.
Why has she replaced her old friends with a group of kids whose behaviour recognizes neither moral nor legal boundaries? What happened at the high school science fair to make fourteen-year-old Hannah plummet into a despair that threatens to ruin her life and destroy her whole family? Are the answers hidden in the secret box stashed under Hannah's bed? Nobody knows, but Kelly has to find out-even if it means confronting some difficult truths about their parents.
"In Hannah's box of secrets, I found a battered and torn poster from her science fair project last February. I found a lot of things, but the poster reminds me it was at the science fair that Hannah's story, which began who knows where, first screamed to be heard."
What They Don't Know is an intriguing tale and more. There is a voyeuristic twist that will rivet the attention of even the most impatient adolescent reader. Those who have read Griffen and Sabine will recognize the guilty pleasure in reading a story in which we are encouraged to peer furtively at another person's secret writings. Horrocks' story is sprinkled with visual surprises: hand-written notes scrawled on the backs of old envelopes, probation reports, a receipt from a tattoo shop, postcards from the girl's absent mother, newspaper clippings, court documents, and other correspondence that Kelly discovers in Hannah's secret box. Each serves to propel the story forward at a dizzying rate. Will it end in disaster or resolution?
In the end, Kelly makes a great discovery: "Telling Hannah's story made it my story, too. Because the shape that emerged as I told it was my own, and that discovery changed me. But the story is not over yet. Hannah's. Mine. There are so many different beginnings... Another one is now."
What They Don't Know is a novel about choices and consequences, truth and loyalty, love and family. It lingered with me long after I turned the last page and passed it on to my own daughter-who gave it a rave review.
Erinn Banting is finishing the Specialist program in English at the University of Toronto and is co-editor of ça met égal.
Julie Burtinshaw lives in Vancouver, where she does research and writes.
Jeffrey Canton is a freelance writer and reviewer.
Marnie Parsons is an editor and reviewer currently living in London, Ontario.
Sherie Posesorski is a Toronto writer and editor.