"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
1. (+) Yulia, the protagonist - Although we start off with something kind of typical, the ration rat girl who's forced to make black market deals to keep her brother, mother, and herself alive, it was still easy to sympathize with Yulia. From the start, she had a sort of self-reliance and determination that made her fierce and a wonderful main character to follow. Sometimes in stories with supernatural powers, I worry that the character is going to be too much of a Chosen One type, but Yulia is refreshingly human. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She is a teenager in an extraordinary situation. It was beautiful to read about her character growth, learning to hone her powers and deciding what was most important to her in this broken world.
2. (+) World-building - Where Sekret excels is in its world-building and setting/atmosphere. It is clear from the start that Lindsay Smith has researched a lot about Russian culture - I feel like I've learned a lot by reading this novel, and not in an overwhelming way - and her focus on psychic powers adds a layer of intrigue that takes the novel in sometimes unexpected ways. The thing that I liked the most about the world-building was how Smith handled the powers of the Sekret teens. I grew to understand more about their powers - how Smith showed them to us - and how well they complemented each other in an unhurried way. You also learn more about the basis for the powers.
3. (+) Romance - I'd read somewhere or heard from someone that this included a love triangle, and I'm inclined to disagree with that as it's made pretty clear early on where Yulia's affections lie. The romance neatly complements Yulia's own character growth and never overwhelms the main plot. What I personally liked most was the intensity of the romance. Because Smith does a great job at building this atmosphere and world filled with paranoia, it made me eager to see how Yulia and her romantic interest would get to know each other. How eventually their secrets unravel in a beautiful, aching way that fits with the themes and the general setting.
4. (+/-) Plot - From thrillers I expect some level of unpredictability, but unfortunately I predicted most of what was going to happen here. Not all, but most. If the book had been more focused on Yulia's character and her growth, I might not have noticed this as much. And sometimes there was repetitive narration on the characters, some of the same revelations about who they were, that I personally wasn't feeling. However, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed the novel. None of this *significantly* took away my enjoyment of the novel.
5. (+) Setting/History/Atmosphere - In WriteonCon 2012? 2013? a video from a bookseller talked about how sometimes she got historical fiction requests from teachers because they'd wanted their students to read more on / get excited about history. Something like that. And this is the sort of novel I would give them because it's already succeeded in making me interested in learning more about the Cold War era in Russia. I already mentioned how Lindsay Smith excelled in world-building, but it bears repeating. This was by far my favorite part. All the details Smith included really helped bring me not only into the culture, but also into the scene and the attitudes of the characters. And the way everything was strung together -- it flowed so well, and really added a wonderful atmosphere throughout the novel.
6. (+) Themes - So maybe music has been used elsewhere as an expression of tension between romantic couples, but I loved the new layer Smith added to that tension, here with its role in blocking out thoughts. Beautiful way of joining world and character and theme. Loved the emphasis on new beginnings and family (Smith did a good job of making Yulia's comments on her mother and brother feel authentic, despite their lesser page time). And I love how this novel, despite being rooted in the past, has a lot of situations that we might apply to modern themes and commentary.
7. (+/-) Characters - If I had two wishes for Sekret, they'd be to pack a little more plot into this novel to avoid the predictability and/or repetitive bits, and find a way to make the characters shine a bit more. The characters have a lot of potential. I liked them well enough, but never felt attached, and this is the sort of novel I *know* I would have LOVEDLOVEDLOVED if I felt more connected. Was it terrible character building? NO, not at all. They are intriguing, secretive people, and maybe this is the sort of thing that gets expanded on in the sequel?
8. (+) Writing - The writing is just so, so lovely. I already mentioned my fondness for the atmosphere and that would not have been possible without Smith pulling the strings in a beautifully orchestrated way. I'm going to read something from her in the future for sure.
9. (+) Pacing - The synopsis mentions the first plot point, and Smith does not waste time before putting Yulia in her difficult situation. From then on, there are clearly distinct parts and enough action to match the main plot points of those... stages in Yulia's situation.
10. (+) The Cover - I'm a huge fan of this cover and can't wait to see what they will do with the cover for the sequel. (Isn't this an image directly from the book too? One of the propaganda posters (DON'T TELL) that Smith mentioned?).
Teachers, if you'd like to get your students interested in Cold War Russia, this is a wonderful novel. Full of atmosphere, a well-researched setting, a beautiful, tender romance, and a main character who's as real as she is fierce, Sekret is sure to engage its own mix of paranormal and historical fiction readers.