The best young adult books about secrets

SE Grove Author Of The Glass Sentence
By SE Grove

Who am I?

I think secrets are part of who we are. Everyone has things they keep secret and things they don’t want others to know. Why is this? I’ve always been fascinated by it, even though I don’t have any major secrets myself – but I still have aspects of how I think that I don’t wish to share. I see the same thing with my eight-year-old, who just doesn’t want to tell me about that one nightmare… Hm. We keep secrets perhaps because, somehow, having other people not know is critical to how we imagine ourselves. And they make for great stories, don’t they?

I wrote...

The Glass Sentence

By SE Grove,

Book cover of The Glass Sentence

What is my book about?

Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

The books I picked & why

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The Thief

By Megan Whalen Turner,

Book cover of The Thief

Why this book?

This book is the ultimate trickster tale. I fell in love with the book (and the whole series) when I realized that Megan Whalen Turner is an expert at creating unreliable narrators: storytellers who either can’t see the truth or intentionally hide the truth. (I won’t tell you which it is for The Thief!) At the end of the book, everything is turned on its head, and the first thing you want to do is go back to the beginning and read it all over to figure out how you missed it! The Thief’s secret is a stunner.

Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Howl's Moving Castle

Why this book?

You might know the movie by Miyazaki, but Wynne Jones’s book is wonderful on its own terms – and kind of different (Miyazaki took some intriguing liberties). There are three main characters in this book, and all three of them are keeping secrets – in some cases because magic is keeping them silent! I first read this book long ago, and I return to it whenever I want to visit the strange but familiar landscape in which an old lady (who is really a young girl) can be friends with a fire demon.

Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Akata Witch

Why this book?

Akata Witch has a magic system like no other. Reading this book made me rethink the “rules” of magic systems in fantasy fiction. The weirdness, the silliness, the insects! Okorafor has also found a way to think about identity in magic (there’s the secret) that is both profound and fun.

The Tombs of Atuan

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Tombs of Atuan

Why this book?

This book (and the series it’s a part of) utterly changed my understanding of fantasy writing. I realized that fantasy could take on big issues – and contemporary ones – by describing made-up worlds and fairly narrow lives. The “secret” in this story, stretching a bit, is the world itself, which is kept secret from the book’s protagonist, Tenar. The labyrinth that she lives in is her destined place, but she has the wisdom and grace to not only save someone who has landed in it, but to find her way out of it herself. 

Astrid the Unstoppable

By Maria Parr,

Book cover of Astrid the Unstoppable

Why this book?

This book is for slightly younger readers, but I think it has genuine multi-generational appeal. I read it aloud to my eight-year-old, who laughed aloud and loved it – in fact, it was the first read-aloud chapter book that he stuck with. And his grandmother is also reading and loving it! Astrid has the feel of a classic, with its humor and its gentle wisdom. Though it’s a story about a feisty girl who loves sledding, it’s also a story about how someone you love can keep a hurtful secret. How does one forgive such a thing? Astrid figures it out. 

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