Little Willow: Hi everyone! Welcome to the roundtable book discussion of TELL ME A SECRET by Holly Cupala, this month's spotlighted title at readergirlz. We have with us today many fantastic book bloggers as well as readergirlz divas and members of the postergirlz lit advisory council. I’d like to thank everyone who is joining us today as a participant – and remind everyone who is reading this roundtable that you’re welcome to join us in September for our discussion of Maureen Johnson’s novel Suite Scarlett and the sequel, Scarlett Fever. If you’re interested, please leave a comment below.
Let's jump right into the discussion for TELL ME A SECRET now, without any further ado!
Little Willow: Miranda looked up to her big sister with wide eyes. While it wasn’t hero worship - Miranda definitely knew some of the things Xanda did were “wrong” or risky - it was clearly the common idolatry a younger sibling may have for an older sibling. Who here had similar experiences? Do you still look up to your older siblings now, or has your relationship changed? For the adults in the room: How has the sibling dynamic changed in adulthood?
Holly Schindler: I recently read an article that claimed your sibling is actually your life partner. (Your parents are there for the beginning and not the end; your spouse is there for the end and not the beginning.) Your sibling (especially a sibling close in age) is the person who hashes it all out with you: childhood, teen years, adulthood.
Little Willow: Oh, wow. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.
Holly Schindler: My own brother is just about 16 months younger than I am...and we’ve DEFINITELY grown closer as the years have gone by. Sibling rivalry has become more of a sincere friendship--two people rooting for each other...of course, I can still put him in a headlock every now and then, just to keep him in line...
Melissa Walker: Interesting, Holly! My older siblings are WAY older (17, 14 and 10 years older) so they always seemed so impossibly cool when I was very young. I did idolize them once upon a time, and they definitely lived more on the edge than I did. My brothers were always getting into trouble but I loved being let in on things that my parents didn’t know (much like Miranda/Xanda). I felt important.
Lorie Ann Grover: I am the oldest, so I didn’t have the idol experience; however, I love your point, Holly, about siblings being life partners. I definitely feel that with my brothers now.
Georgia Cranston: I am the oldest too, so I didn’t experience that either. But I used to find my little sister getting into my things growing up. At the time it was irritating, but now I see the same things in my children and I think she was just trying to be like me.
Little Willow: I have a sister who is a decade older than me, but contrary to popular belief, the age gap served us extremely well! I think that is because I was a little adult since the time I was born. Yes, I was still a kid, but my priorities, my big dreams, and my concerns were definitely not shared by my peers. While they were playing in sandboxes, I was writing stories, watching classic films with my mom, belting out songs on the radio in my sister’s room, and planning my future. I looked up to my sister and my mom and trusted them with everything.
HipWriterMama: Love what you say about your sister and mom, LW! I’m the oldest in my family and often wondered what it would be like to have an older sibling. It’s nice to read about everyone’s experiences.
Micol Ostow: My younger brother and I are three years apart, and our relationship has evolved on and off, fairly evenly. When we were little, I HATED him and was awful to him (I definitely felt as though his arrival meant that I had been “replaced”), then at some point during the elementary school years, we became playmates. During high school, we grew apart again (he was the angsty musician and I was the perky “involved” type). By the time I got to college, I realized how smart, funny, and cool he truly was, and invoked all of my dubious charms to get back in with him. Ten years later, I seem to have finally won him over.
Little Willow: And you’ve written books with him! (Check out Micol’s rocking YA novel So Punk Rock - http://www.kosherpunkrock.com - it features illustrations by her brother David!)
Lorie Ann Grover: I heart So Punk Rock!
Steph Su: So interesting to read about others’ experiences with their siblings! My two younger brothers are right on the cusp of moving out of teenagerdom, so who knows what the future of adulthood will hold for our relationships? Right now, I think I like them a lot more than they like me. (laugh) I’m always so happy to return home from college and spend time with them... and yet, when I get home, they’re usually in their own rooms, doing their own things. I’d also like to think they can look up to me and come to me for help and advice when they need it, but I think I terrorized them too much when we were younger. :/ Being the oldest has its ups and downs.
Erica (Cafe Saturday): When I was in high school I definitely looked up to my older brother while simultaneously being worried about some of the things he did. We fought like cats and dogs, but I took great offense if anyone had a negative word to say about him. I wanted to be more carefree and outgoing like he was, instead of being the quiet, studious one of the family. Things shifted a little bit after I graduated and was going off to college, when he wrote me a letter and basically said that he knew I’d do well in life because I was everything he wasn’t (which is actually really sad when I think about it, and untrue, too). Even today, years beyond college, I still find myself looking up to him for many of the same reasons. But now that I know that he looked up to me in some ways, I feel like our relationship is more balanced than I always assumed it was.
Little Willow: What do you have in common with Miranda?
Holly Schindler: I can completely understand Miranda’s infatuation with Xanda...there’s something sort of infectious about a person who kind of...spits in the face of danger. Sometimes, there’s a kind of energy that spills off that person...
Melissa Walker: The sibling worship, definitely, but also the way she holds on to Xanda. I have a hard time letting go of people, too. And if I lost my sister, I’d want to know absolutely everything about why/how it happened.
Lorie Ann Grover: I think I felt pretty alone, like Miranda, when I was a teen. I had to figure things out on my own, even though my mother was beside me.
Georgia Cranston: Art. I have always been an artist, and expressed myself through art.
Erica (Cafe Saturday): I tend to trust that the people around me are motivated by love above all else, so I’m quick to assume the best in them. While this can be a good thing, I’ve often been hurt because people can be catty. Like Miranda believing that her future with Kamran was set in stone, I often jump to conclusions like this when there really is no basis for it in reality.
Little Willow: What do you have in common with Xanda?
Melissa Walker: I think her safety pin dress sounded pretty great, though it’s more like I WISH I were cool enough to wear it...
Lorie Ann Grover: Definitely, I have an inner compulsion to be outside mainstream style. I carry a bit of her anti-establishment in me, but hopefully that’s matured.
Georgia Cranston: Oh, man! I so would have wanted to be her friend. I used to put together the most outlandish outfits to wear to school. A turquoise lame mini dress with a fake fur coat and platform jelly shoes... A snakeskin print mini dress with ripped up fishnet stockings... I had the best clothes. I so would have worn that safety pin dress!
Erica (Cafe Saturday): I think in my thoughts I’m a lot like Xanda but none of that ever comes out. I’m far too self-conscious to express any of it to other people!
Little Willow: Would you keep a secret for a family member, even if you knew someone else should know it?
Holly Schindler: I actually haven’t ever had to...though I can be fiercely loyal, and wonder sometimes what would win out: my loyalty to a family member’s confidence, or my need to protect and care for a family member...I have a feeling the latter, but you never know...I did actually address similar issues / themes in my own book (in my case, a daughter attempts to keep a mother’s secret), so it’s obviously something that’s been floating around in my head...
Melissa Walker: If someone else should know it, and it would make things better for both people/the whole family if I told, I’d tell. I’ve done this before when I learned a painful secret when I was about 16, and it had to come out. It had to. I almost think my family member told me so I’d help her tell others.
Lorie Ann Grover: Totally hear you, Melissa. I get used like that as well. I can keep a secret if it doesn’t hurt anyone though.
Dia Calhoun: I did once keep a deep dark secret for an extended family member, even though I knew someone else should know the truth. It was horrible. No one should put another in that situation.
Steph Su: It depends on the secret, I think. This hasn’t happened with a family member yet, but in middle school I once talked to a guidance counselor because my friend was making lots of comments that suggested an eating disorder. And while that scenario didn’t turn out to be too serious in the end, I think that, when it comes down to it, telling someone a secret may be a person’s only way of reaching out for help, and it may even be nice for that person sometimes that someone who listened to them was concerned enough to seek more help for that person. But I don’t have too much personal experience in this matter, so I could just be blowing smoke.
Little Willow: Sometimes people tell secrets to others because they want help and they want the secret to be known. That can be a clear decision or simply subconscious, though, and thus when secrets are revealed, reactions can be quite varied - from “I hate you! How could you? I trusted you!” to “Thank you” and everything in-between.
Micol Ostow: Thankfully, I’ve never had to (reveal a secret) that I can think of. I do think I’m a very loyal confidant, though. I guess if it were a secret that needed to come out, I’d do everything in my power to urge the confider to spill the beans him or herself.
Georgia Cranston: When I was a kid I kept a really awful secret for someone... I finally told someone a year or so later, but really it was the kind of thing I should have said something right away. It was awful.
Erica (Cafe Saturday): In a way I have, because I didn’t think that the secret I was keeping was that important in the grand scheme of life. But looking back I wish that I had told someone else, because eventually that secret led to bigger, darker things that I didn’t know about. I felt guilty for a long time because I thought that I could have prevented all that other stuff from happening if I had opened my mouth.
Little Willow: Have you ever spilled the beans, for better or worse?
Dia Calhoun: I did finally tell the deep dark secret when pressed under duress. There is no winning in this situation. One side blamed me for telling, the other for not telling sooner.
Melissa Walker: Oh yes. I used to be a terrible gossip in high school. I even wrote about it. Read about it but don’t worry--I’ve reformed!
Lorie Ann Grover: I constantly spill the beans. So, be sure to tell me it’s a secret, then I’ll be fine. It’s just when I don’t realize it!
Micol Ostow: Only when it comes to really silly, insignificant things -- I’m awful at keeping surprises a surprise, and for that reason I can never buy gifts too far in advance. I always want to tell people about them! But I’m good with big stuff - I think!
Steph Su: I’ve spilled secrets that at that moment have made me feel horrible, but--okay, never mind, I still feel bad about it now! In elementary school I inadvertently told a classmate that my friend had a crush on her. I thought it was a silly, throwaway comment on my friend’s part when he mentioned his crush on her to me, but when he confronted me about it later, I felt horrible. I still kind of feel bad, even though he’s probably forgotten about it by now. Maybe being the secret-spiller is worse than being the person whom the secret is about!
Erica (Cafe Saturday): Like Steph, I spilled the beans about a friend’s crush. I probably shouldn’t have, but in all honesty there was a greater sense of obligation to the crush than to the girl who had it, and he flat out asked me about it and I couldn’t lie to him. Luckily she wasn’t really upset about it, and the fact that I told her as soon as it happened probably helped that.
Little Willow: What was your favorite scene in the book?
Holly Schindler: This isn’t a scene, but it’s the last half (or hundred pages or so) of the book. The reading just FLEW! I must’ve read that last half in about an hour. What was it Mark Twain said? “Easy reading is damned hard writing”? I SO admire Cupala’s ability to build a story, heighten tension, propel the reader forward faster and faster toward the end. (I swear, the end of that book read like an adventure, not a character-driven novel.) She makes it look so easy...
Melissa Walker: I feel the same way, Holly. The hospital scenes were really immediate and raw for me, and reading them I was flying through the pages.
Lorie Ann Grover: The early mirror scene with both girls is so vivid. That beginning characterization is really clear and there’s the tension just riding below the surface. Love it!
HipWriterMama: What great scenes! I agree with Lorie Ann -- the beginning scene was vivid. I almost wish the cover was a picture of the safety pin dress or safety pin necklace. ;-) Holly did a fantastic job developing her scenes. I couldn’t put the book down!
Dia Calhoun: I loved the way Cupala wove past and present--masterful!
Steph Su: I absolutely agree with Holly and Melissa. Immediately after the hospital scene--during which I think I bit my nails ragged and tore holes in the blanket I was clutching--I tweeted about how it had left me in tears. The emotions I experienced in that one scene were so powerful; I couldn’t believe they had shaken me so. There are really no words for that moment and how it affected me.
Erica (Cafe Saturday): The whole book had me on edge except for one scene, which is probably why it stands out as my favorite. When Shelley takes Miranda home for Thanksgiving, it felt like the only point in the book when Miranda was free to breathe deeply and be surrounded by love. Because so much of the story is about her dealing such heavy issues, she’s very serious and contemplative. This was really the first time when I saw a spark of life in her, when she was able to sit back and see the love that this family had for one another and was willing to share with her, something that she never really experienced in her own family. It was a breath of fresh air, and it came from such an unexpected place that I actually felt renewed myself as I read it.
Little Willow: Isn’t the cover great?
Lorie Ann Grover: Definitely. That light framing the kiss just pulls your eye to it.
Georgia Cranston: I love the cover!
Little Willow: Any closing thoughts?
Lorie Ann Grover: Personally, I have to say we are incredibly happy to celebrate Holly Cupala’s debut novel with readergirlz. Everyone has grown to love her as she’s volunteered countless hours for literacy, and now we can read her heart on paper and be bettered by it. Thank you, Holly, for being a diva. Thank you for being an author!
Dia Calhoun: Ditto to the 100th degree!
Thanks again to all of our participants! We hope we've made you want to pick up a copy of TELL ME A SECRET by Holly Cupala. Read the August 2010 issue of readergirlz to learn more about the book and its author.
If you'd like to join our September discussion of Maureen Johnson’s novel Suite Scarlett and the sequel, Scarlett Fever, please leave a comment below.