Blurb: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.
Review: Bold Strokes Books is a new to me publishers and I was eager to read one of their books. They don’t disappoint as they deliver well edited content in a nice jacket (that cover is gorgeous). Brian McNamara is (as far as I know) a new author with a promising story.
Bottled Up Secret is the first book in a series and a coming of age story focusing on high school senior Brendan Madden. Brendan leads an ordinary life going through high school and waiting to see what college he got into. He goes about his life with a close knit group of friends, doing theatre and tennis and just hanging out. All is quite regular, except that Brendan is gay and hasn’t come out yet.
All that changes when he meets Mark Galovic at an after party and they hit things off.
Bottled Up Secret is a first-person narrative with a focus on the themes of coming out to friends and family and coming to terms with who you are and first love. Throughout the story the reader gets to know Brendan and his friends with his quirky view of the world. He is quite the sweet guy and it’s easy to see why his friends like him. But Brendan is not as good with conflict.
That is where I hit a snag in the story. This is a group of teens. Where is the drama? Every teen I know hits emotional highs and lows, does some stupid things and yells at their parents. In the case of Brendan, his mom.
There is none of that in Bottled Up Secret. Brendan’s mom doesn’t want Brendan to be gay and clings to the belief that it’s just a phase. Unfortunately, his mom is a flat character. Rarely there and only for a few brief static conversations. The same with Brendan’s older sisters. This is supposed to be one of the major conflicts in the book, but it’s quietly swept under the rug. Rather, the focus is on his friend’s reactions and they were all well done and believable. But I missed to conflict.
The other snag I had with this story is how nice all the main characters are. They are just about the most perfect and well behaved set of teens I know. While the story in itself is nice, it took away from the story as a whole. Also, minor niggle: the pop culture references are all very outdated. My best friend’s wedding? Julia Roberts? Alicia Silverstone? I expected a bit more from theatre performers.
The writing itself is very strong, especially for a first person narrative. There is an attention to detail. The story is drawn out over several months and jumps a bit at places.
The characters were nicely drawn out. I would have liked to get to know Brendan and especially Mark a bit better. While they have a (secret) relationship, it’s hard to get a deeper feel for Mark, but we do get a good view of him through Brendan and his motivations. The romance between the two is that sweet awkward first love type of romance, not the page-sparkler you see sometimes.
I was very happy that the book is a ‘happy for now’ story. There are no promises of eternal and undying love at the end. There is the hope, but let’s face it, they are teenagers just starting their adult life. Anything can happen.
To sum it up: Bottled Up Secret is a nice intriguing read, but it missed the oomph I was looking for. But I’m curious to see what the next book will bring.
Why you should read this book: Bottled Up Secret is a cute coming of age story with a sweet air. There is no high drama, but it does deal with some heavy topics in a quiet, unassuming matter.
- ARC review copy received through Netgalley