The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart
It irritates me that not once throughout this entire book was a watch-related pun made, since Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers centers entirely around a pocket watch that can make the user invisible. That wasn’t a spoiler, by the way. It’s in the summary.
I read this book because the author had also happened to write The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I’d been enamored with a few years ago. This book contains a more fantastical element than his previous books, but the spirit of the story is familiar to Stewart’s writing. The story is multi-layered and complex, and not just because of its many plot twists.
Stewart seems to have never forgotten how it was to be a child. The main character, eleven-year-old Reuben, is a sketch of many kids around the world. He loves the unknown, and he climbs and explores places because of the magic they could possibly hold. And many aspects of the story appeal to the child you forgot how to be; when you read it, it’s everything you wanted when you were younger- to discover a watch that can make you invisible, a message hidden inside a concealed cove, and an evil man that lives inside a gloomy mansion. It makes you yearn to crawl back in time. It makes you want to go on an adventure.
Despite this, the story itself isn’t childish. Stewart writes with finesse and voice, his words filled with imagery, drawing you into the story. The plot is incredibly well-conceived, and just as Reuben gets himself out of one dilemma he’s dropped right into another. All of the story’s pieces are put together like- well, the inner workings of a watch, and it’s only near the last few pages when you get to see the entire picture.
The book doesn’t really explore feelings, though. It’s a vivid mystery and adventure, but it’s definitely more about the plot than the characters. However, there are some driving mechanisms in the book that, when extrapolated, definitely remarks on some of the big ideas of human nature.
One of them is obsession, mainly with power. If you had a watch that could make you invisible, you probably would never want to let it go. The book’s antagonist is motivated by his desire to find the watch, trapping himself and the rest of the characters in a dangerous game that could hurt a lot of people.
The idea of obsession is not a new one. It has been used as a motif in several books, but the interesting thing about The Secret Keepers is that the protagonist fell victim to obsession with power, too. Which is an interesting idea. A common way of thinking is that power is dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands, but this book makes you think that power in itself is dangerous no matter who it is given too.
The other theme is love. The reason Reuben doesn’t just take the watch and run is because of his love for his mother, and eventually his friendship with the side characters. A lot of Reuben’s motivation comes from his attachment to these people. The book examines how your relationships with others define many of the choices you make in life.
Reuben is a guy who's very quiet and likes to hide, but he goes to extreme lengths for his mom and later, his new friends. I find this a very interesting concept, because if you're willing to go such lengths because of love, what happens when you get caught in a compromising situation because of it?
That being said, these ideas aren’t really the main focus of the story. The goal of The Secret Keepers isn’t to make you analyze humanity. It’s to take you on a roller-coaster ride of words. Watch out, though- it will make you breathless after.
(So, did you catch that last pun? And also, do you want to read this?)