Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review: Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes

Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes

Published 2018 by HarperTeen

448 pages, YA Thriller.


I've never disliked a Paula Stokes book, but I've never been crazy about one either. Still, she's a local author, and she seems like a decent person on Twitter, so I wanted to support her and read her latest book. I didn't know much more than the genre going in, which as you may know about me, is my preferred way to start a book.

The book starts with some great drama, develops a tense thriller plot, and doesn't let up on red herrings and surprising developments until the end. If that's your thing, you'll like this book. I did. And then I went to rate it...

and realized that while as a YA thriller, it was great---a solid four stars--there were some other elements that I appreciated so much that I wanted to rate it higher. I'm going to try to not be spoiler-y, but I also don't want to be so vague that I can't prove my point, so proceed with some caution. NOTHING I say will give away the mystery, but if you, like me, want to discover everything for yourself as you read, then the following may annoy you.

I mentioned Stokes lives in my state, specifically in Portland. The book, however, is set at the coast, in a fictional tiny town near some real still-pretty-small towns along the north coast of Oregon. This made it so easy for me to picture not only the scenery and weather, but even the way the shops and streets would look. I understood the tension between the tourists and the year-rounders, and between the rural kids and the small town kids, in a much deeper way than I do with books set on Nantucket or Long Island. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but trust me when I say Stokes nailed beach towns in Oregon.

Embry has an adorable, dumb, sweet dog. Her tail starts a fire. What's not to love?

There are a lot of YA novels set at fancy boarding schools. And there are a few stories about dire poverty. It's just nice to read about people who own a home, but can't afford much maintenance. Who have a job, but barely cover the bills. Who can go out for dinner every once in a while, but rarely enough that it's a special treat. And Embry isn't some token poor girl in her crowd. Sure, she has a rich BFF, but most of the town is (realistically) at about the same economic level as her family. The teens in this book have to borrow cars from their parents if they want to drive somewhere, and they only get permission if they drop the parent off at work.

I could have led with this, as it's the element that really stood out to me. Embry makes some less than ethical choices around dating, namely hooking up with a friend's boyfriend and not being honest with her own sort-of-ex. And this is all dealt with--in fact a major theme of the book is that honesty can be hard and scary, but is still better than dishonesty every time. She knows what she does is wrong, and she eventually is able to tell the truth to everyone she needs to. There are serious consequences for her lies, and she has to bear that guilt long-term. But you know what she DOESN'T feel guilty about? Having sex. She's had sex with two guys, and it's no big deal. She took it slow with her first boyfriend, and appreciated him for that. She took it too fast with the next guy, and the next day he drove her up to the city to pick up a morning after pill, because if you have unprotected sex, you have to think about how to handle the possible consequences. The characters talk to each other about protection and about consent. Slut shaming comes up,and the kids who engage are portrayed as immature, dumb, and not worth getting upset over. The girl in question is magnificently unperturbed by their attempts to humiliate her. One character is a virgin--and that's okay! One character is gay--and that's okay! The "sin" in this story is keeping secrets and being emotionally dishonest. Consensual sex with good boundaries and open communication is shown to be healthy and worth aiming for.

I was trying to decide if the book belongs in my middle school classroom. I mean, there's a blow job, though not described in full detail. But then I thought about my own middle school daughter. Her attitudes about sex and dating are forming now, and I'd rather have her reading about teens who handle sex with honesty and maturity than some glossy romance where nothing needs to be discussed because everything is magical. It will be on my PG-13 shelf, and I hope that both boys and girls will heed the quiet messages within the gripping mystery.

5/5 stars


  1. This was a 5-star read for me too. I know people were all mad about the "cheating", but I felt Stokes built a good set of explanations for why it wasn't as bad as people made it out to be. This had all the things I have come to expect from her books, but she surprised me with that beautiful ending. It made me shed the happy tears.

  2. Okay, I sort of skimmed this because I don't know if I want to know too much, and I definitely want to read this one. I have it out from the library now. Now, if I can just manage to read it before I've renewed it too many times...

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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