Review of I Have No Secrets, by Penny Joelson

I Have No Secrets

by Penny Joelson

Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. Originally published in 2017 in Great Britain. 288 pages.
Review written December 4, 2020, from a library book

I Have No Secrets is a Rear Window type thriller for teens. The main character is Jemma, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy. She can’t speak or control her muscles, but she is fully intelligent. She has a loving long-term foster family with two other special-needs siblings. Even eye-movement technology was not able to help her communicate.

And Jemma’s aide Sarah has a sinister boyfriend. Because Jemma can’t communicate, when no one is around, this boyfriend, Dan, tells Jemma his secret – that he’s the one who murdered a teen boy in the neighborhood recently. He enjoys telling Jemma he’d be happy to put her out of her misery, too.

Unfortunately, Jemma also knows that Sarah is cheating on Dan, having never broken up with Richard, her earlier boyfriend. When Sarah disappears after going to a concert with Richard, Jemma knows who to suspect, but she has no way of telling anyone. But then her family hears about a new technology that can use sniffing to communicate, which might be able to help Jemma. In their happiness, they mention it to Dan, who says he’s worried about Sarah’s disappearance.

Okay, the plot is a little bit predictable, but it’s carried out in a way that helps you understand Jemma’s life and relationships when she can’t communicate with anyone. The reader has to have some suspension of disbelief, since it’s told in present tense from Jemma’s perspective – even while she’s unable to communicate. But it does help you understand what that experience would be like.

This would be an interesting follow-up to Out of My Mind, which is a book about a younger girl with cerebral palsy becoming able to communicate. If nothing else, both books help the reader empathize with someone with a sharp brain being completely underestimated because of bodily limitations.

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