As the children’s novel SWALLOWED BY A SECRET by Risa Nyman opens, Rocky Casson is certain there is something about his dad’s recent death that he is not being told. Why else would his mom be yanking him out of middle school to move them to a new location without even waiting until a break in the school year? And there are other clues…like the whispered, tearful conversations he keeps catching her have behind his back alluding to his father dying of something other than a heart that stopped. Not thrilled about having to abruptly leave all of his friends and soccer teammates behind, the main character of this charming middle reader decides to take matters into his own hands. Lucky for him a social studies teacher at the new school assigns him imaginative, irrepressible Olive as a study partner…and Olive is just the right person to help Rocky get to the bottom of what’s going on.
The plot of this children’s book is mostly sound as it zips along delving into the mystery of what happened to Ronald Casson, Sr and why Rocky’s mother won’t just tell him the truth. Many scenes are light-heartedly humorous along with restlessly, thought-provokingly real, such as the one where 12-year-old Rocky attempts to drive his bee-stung uncle Bob’s car away from a remote campsite without getting them both killed in order to get the allergic adult medical help. Important issues including mental health are explored. The fact that Rocky has begun hearing the voice of his dead father speaking to him while looking into the suspicious death is an interesting element to the story. The burgeoning friendship and potential first romance with Olive is handled sweetly and is well paced. This tale does have a few flaws as well, however. All emotional content could and should be shown more consistently in ways other than characters often succumbing to tears. (In general, a solid rule for fiction in terms of characters crying is: less is usually more than enough.) At times the dialog also doesn’t ring true as if real flesh-and-blood people–especially young people–are speaking. Yet on the whole, this is a heartfelt book worth reading.
Invoking an air of secrecy along with a young boy’s potential first love as he moves towards becoming a man, SWALLOWED BY A SECRET written by Risa Nyman is an appealing page-turner that takes a look at worthy issues.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader