Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 9 November 2012

Sworn Secret - Amanda Jennings

‘How could anything matter as much as losing your sister?’

This moving and emotional debut novel looks at how several lives are devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. Anna Thorne died after falling from the roof of her school in a tragic accident. At the time that the main narrative starts, a year after the event, a memorial to Anna is to be placed at her school and Anna’s parents are expecting a visit from the head teacher Dr Howe to finalise the arrangements.

How have the lives of Anna’s sister Lizzie and her parents Kate and Jon been affected by her death and the aftermath? What emotions are they experiencing? And what is the truth about Anna’s death? These questions are deftly explored by debut author Amanda Jennings in detail here. 

The family is still hugely affected by Anna’s death, by the gaping hole she has left in all their lives.

Anna’s mother Kate feels her loss so deeply; it has torn every shred of happiness from her world:

‘Kate’s tear-blurry eyes searched for the honeyed colours, but all that was left were shades of grey. Losing a child will do that, you see. Losing a child turns everything grey, settles over life like a dirty shroud, sucking the joy out as it smothers every last thing.’

Kate longs to find solace in painting Anna’s portrait, trying to recall her daughter as she was, to capture her smile once more. Meanwhile she is not fully present for the daughter she still has, which is difficult for both Kate and Lizzie

Jon, Anna’s father, has so much to deal with, not just his feelings of loss, but his elderly parents needing his time and support, too; his father is suffering from dementia.

Lizzie loved her sister very much, yet is trying to move forwards with her life, and experiencing love, but she can’t stop thinking of Anna either; ‘Lizzie didn’t think there’d been a single hour in the whole of the last year when she hadn’t thought about Anna.’ She often retreats to her sister’s bedroom when she wants a peaceful moment to herself.

Something shocking is discovered, a revelation that means the events on the night of Anna’s death may not be quite as they seemed. What are the secrets that are now being uncovered? There is anger, astonishment and disbelief for Kate and Jon at what they now know. Lizzie is falling further in love with Haydn, a relationship that brings with it its own complications as is revealed as you read on further.

This is a perceptive, emotional novel that really gets to grips with the affects of grief on Lizzie, Kate and Jon. It is not particularly fast-paced at times, but concentrates on portraying the heartbreaking feelings and pain that each member of this family is experiencing, and how their responses to their personal pain is impacting on their everyday life now. How do they find the sense in such a terrible loss, and the strength to go on? Can they come together as a close family unit ever again now that Anna is gone? The story has depth, with other threads of intrigue running alongside the main events, which flesh out the principal characters well as we see their responses to what happens and gain insight through their behaviour.

As well as this intimate portrayal of the effects of grief, the story encompasses elements of mystery in the unraveling of unknown facts about Anna’s life and death, secrets and sides to her that were hidden from her family, adding tension. I felt the novel’s strength lay primarily in the heart-rending, believable depiction of three people consumed by horrendous grief and struggling to see the way forward, and I needed to read on and see what life had in store for them. 

Reviewed by Lindsay Healy

Published by Canvas, an imprint of Constable & Robinson

Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel to read and review.

You can follow the author on twitter @MandaJJennings and visit her website here


  1. Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

  2. Sounds good Lynz, lovely review



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