Book Review: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Posted August 11, 2016 by meezcarrie in Cathy Gohlke, Christian, historical / 22 Comments

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about the book

All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love―but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

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GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Tyndale House
RELEASE DATE: August 20, 2015
PAGES: 416

“You cannot cancel another man’s sins.  We cannot even cancel our own.”

My heart is full.

Some books I read and then find it very easy to come here and tell y’all what I thought about the characters, the writing, the plot. And then there are those books that take over while I’m reading, that completely absorb me in the story and in the message and in the people I meet on the pages. These are the books that refuse to let go. The books that engage my emotions in deep and personal ways.  Secrets She Kept is one of these books.

As such, I find myself uncharacteristically out of words when it comes to writing this review.

Feelings, yes. Thoughts, plenty. Emotions, a heart full. Words… few that are adequate.

One thing I can say with great certainty — EVERYONE needs to read this book.

There is also no question why it won this year’s Christy Award for Historical Fiction.

I was already mesmerized, captivated, by the story revealed through Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s alternating perspectives. And then these two words – Barracks 28 – made my breath catch and I thought, “Could it be?” And then there they were… two beautiful-to-me sisters who have been close to my heart since I first read their true story in the 8th grade. Their appearance in Secrets She Kept unleashed all the tears I’d been repressing so far, even as I smiled.

The dual storylines (which both really tell Lieselotte’s story – one from her own perspective and one from Hannah’s as she uncovers the other side of things almost thirty years later) reflect more than just the atrocities that were committed during WW2 Germany. They serve as a reminder of how easily fear and ignorance can turn into hate – especially when skillfully manipulated – and how easily hate can lead to the kind of evil that targets a people simply for their religion or the color of their skin or the weakness of their bodies.  It should serve as a reminder to all of us that prejudice is rarely harmless and that what happened in Germany could happen again too easily. Far too easily. May it never happen again in our lifetime.

If I am caught, I would rather die for something than live for nothing.

But even more than that, Secrets She Kept tells another type of dual storyline – that of bitterness vs. forgiveness. Two lives, altered forever by the same evil. Both given the same choice of how their hearts will respond.  How do you forgive someone who stole everything from you? How do you forgive the kind of evil that delights in dehumanizing someone else? These questions – and the answers – raised in the book go directly to the heart and are perhaps even more uncomfortable to face than the horrors of Ravensbruck.  But their importance is vital and the discussions they precipitate have the potential to be so healing.

Bottom Line: Secrets She Kept is a book that – when I finished reading it – I sat for a while and just absorbed the things I’d read, the people I’d met, the lessons I’d learned. It’s a not an easy “feel good” read nor is it always comfortable. But it’s beautiful and poignant and full of life. Lieselotte’s story tells us of great courage, of great bravery, of great evil, of great loss, and of great love. Hannah’s story is marked by the same, as well as by redemption and hope. As the two stories thread together over the course of the novel, your heart will overflow with a multitude of emotions ranging from joy to heartbreak to everything in between. Like me, you may not be able to put adequate words to your experience when you’ve closed the book on the final chapter.  But I have no doubt that, like me, you will be forever changed.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)

My Rating: 5 stars / Captivating

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about the author

cathy gohlke

Cathy Gohlke is the three-time Christy Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Secrets She Kept (winner of the 2016 INSPY Award), Saving Amelie (winner of the 2015 INSPY Award), Band of Sisters, Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008), which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award.

Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between Northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their children and granddaughter.

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Other Books by Cathy Gohlke

What about you? What books have stayed with you long after you’ve finished reading them?

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22 responses to “Book Review: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

  1. Rachael Merritt

    This book did change me…and my perspective. She knew that her mom didn’t tell her about her family because she wouldn’t have believed her mom. Why? Because her dad was always dropping hints and negativity about her mom to her. As a result, she viewed her mom through the prism of her dads comments. That was the biggest lesson I learned. It has been months since I read this book, yet I still think about it. My perception is forever changed.

    • Carrie

      such an amazing book – with, i feel, more to mine than one reading will suffice. This is one I will probably go back and read again in a couple of months 🙂

  2. Connie Scruggs

    The description of the book already had me wanting to read it. Your review sealed the deal. This is now being added to my Goodreads shelf.

  3. Carrie, you truly caught the essence of Secrets She Kept and brought that to your readers ten-fold. Thank you! This is a brilliant review! God’s blessings!

  4. Janel Fossen

    This is by far my favorite book. I keep telltale by everyone about it. The characters are so vivid in my mind. I look forward to reading more by Cathy Gohlke. What a brilliant writer!

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