Title: Secrets, Lies, & Scandals
Author: Amanda K. Morgan
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC received from publisher
Availability: Available July 5
Summary: In the tradition of I Know What You Did Last Summer and How to Get Away with Murder, five teens must overcome their paranoia in order to keep their teacher’s death a secret in this fast-paced suspense thriller.
Nothing ruins summer vacation like a secret…especially when it involves a dead teacher.
Ivy used to be on top of the social ladder, until her ex made that all go away. She has a chance to be Queen Bee again, but only if the rest of the group can keep quiet.
Tyler has always been a bad boy, but lately he’s been running low on second chances. There’s no way he’s going to lose everything because someone couldn’t keep their mouth shut.
Kinley wouldn’t describe herself as perfect, though everyone else would. But perfection comes at a price, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do to keep her perfect record—one that doesn’t include murder charges.
Mattie is only in town for the summer. He wasn’t looking to make friends, and he definitely wasn’t looking to be involved in a murder. He’s also not looking to be riddled with guilt for the rest of his life…but to prevent that he’ll have to turn them all in.
Cade couldn’t care less about the body, or about the pact to keep the secret. The only way to be innocent is for someone else to be found guilty. Now he just has to decide who that someone will be.
With the police hot on the case, they don’t have much time to figure out how to trust each other. But in order to take the lead, you have to be first in line…and that’s the quickest way to get stabbed in the back.
Review: I wanted to like Secrets, Lies, & Scandals more than I did, especially since I’m sure there will be many people who love it. A lot of my disappointment stems from specific-to-me pet peeves; other disappointments are less subjective.
Amanda K. Morgan did an admirable job of giving the five students distinct voices and points of view in the alternating, sometimes fragmented story. Only Kinley and Cade are people of color, but they are allowed a proportionate amount of chapters. The strict adherence to the established chapter order (Ivy, Mattie, Kinley, Tyler, Cade) felt like a misstep on occasion, but the short chapters enhanced the overall pace of the book, as did the short timeline. Roughly three weeks pass between the death of their teacher and the end of the book, so there is little time to linger on anything—or really feel like characters or relationships are allowed to develop properly.
Perhaps it is just my aro/ace self talking, but I just did not understand how two (two!) couples could (pseudo-)form under the stress of killing a teacher, disposing of the body, trying not to get caught, and contemplating throwing everyone else under the bus, but it happens in Secrets. (One of the characters does lampshade the fact that they’re making out approximately twenty feet from their teacher’s not-yet-cold corpse, but that just made me want to throw the book. Can we maybe put romance and hormones on hold for a couple hours? Please? There are actually more important things to be done and to worry about right now, I promise.) I wish both developing romances had been excised entirely in order to give more space for each character’s secrets/lies/scandals, because those were far more interesting, and some were woefully underdeveloped. The ending (and epilogue with a new narrator) is an exercise in frustration, where things are resolved too easily and then tanked at the last second (as a sequel hook?).
I also had several representation issues I had with the book. Stratford, the evil teacher, is repeatedly referred to as having an uneven gait and smile, and while those are both plot relevant (barely), it pinged pretty high for me on the “doesn’t-conform-to-societal-beauty-standards = evil” trope. I wasn’t that thrilled when a character lied about having a disability, either, in order to try to cover up some other wrongdoing. Another thing that frustrated me was the discovery that a character was bisexual—which was almost immediately followed up by the revelation that the character had cheated on their prior partner. To top all that off, another character’s secret is about severe mental illness in their family, and how rage, insanity, and murder are now part of their “family’s legacy.”
Recommendation: Just skip it. While there are some good things about the premise and the writing, they were overshadowed by a number of pet peeves and representation issues.