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On the surface, Hannah Cohen’s life is pretty perfect. She’s smart. She’s popular. Her parents have more money than they know what to do with. She has her whole life figured out. But if you take the time to dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Hannah is slowly drowning.

“The rules are everything my parents have ever taught me.”

Hannah’s entire life has been dictated by thirty-two rules set by her mother. Thirty-two rules intended to make Hannah a successful, poised, perfect young woman. And Hannah has followed them to the letter.

Rule #1: Maintain the image of perfection.

Hannah is so focused on following all of the rules, on maintaining her image of perfection, that she can’t even process everything that’s going wrong in her life. Her father is in rehab after nearly dying of a prescription drug overdose. Her mother makes a habit of drinking a few too many cocktails with dinner. She can’t talk to her friends about it, because that would mean admitting weakness. And Hannah doesn’t trust anyone enough to break the rules and show weakness.

Rule #8: If reality wasn’t the way you wanted it to be, create your own.

So Hannah pretends that she doesn’t notice her mom’s drinking. She plays along with her mother’s lie that her dad is away at a “resort,” not detoxing at a local rehab facility. She pretends that everything’s okay, because that’s what the rules taught her to do. And when her mom jets off to Paris to dodge the impending scandal, Hannah pretends that she’s gone with her. Because she doesn’t want her friends to know that she’s really staying with her aunt in a small town a few hours away.

Rule #4: Never ask for help.

As luck would have it, Hannah’s car gets a flat tire as she’s driving through the North Carolina mountains on the way to her Aunt Lydia’s house. It’s then that she meets Jude Westmore, a seemingly friendly enough guy who asks if she needs help. The rules say that Hannah can’t ask for help, but her cell phone has no signal, she has no idea how to change a tire, and there are no repair shops around. 

Rule #21: Even the score as soon as possible.

With no choice but to ask Jude to help her change the tire, Hannah finds herself in an awkward situation. Her parents taught her never to be indebted to someone, even someone she’d never see again. So she whips out her checkbook, ready to offer to pay Jude for his time. The problem, of course, is that Jude is a gentleman, just helping her out of the kindness of his heart. Hannah’s insistence on paying Jude offends him, and she leaves the situation feeling like a jerk.

“You rely too much on your rules, Hannah. You’ve let these rules control everything you do in your life.”

For the first time in her life, Hannah is totally separate from her parents, and realizes that maybe the rules she was raised to follow have flaws. And without her parents to constantly criticize her mistakes, she is finally able to become her own person. With the help of her Aunt Lydia and her new friends, Hannah creates her own list of rules:

Rule #1: Be honest. Don’t overcomplicate things.
Rule #2: Do what scares you the most.
Rule #3: Always do the thing that could get you arrested.
Rule #4: Don’t be afraid to face reality.

I really enjoyed The Secrets Between You and Me. The only criticism I have is that while the writing overall was very nice, the dialogue was a little stilted. But the characters seemed real, and the conflicts felt like things that could actually happen in a teenager’s life. I flew through this book, reading it over the course of just a couple hours. There’s just a touch of romance, but it doesn’t come on too quickly – there’s no instalove here. Same with the angst – just a touch, not too much.

The Secrets Between You and Me is the companion novel to The Boyfriend Thief. I haven’t read The Boyfriend Thief, but didn’t feel like I was missing much of the backstory. The only thing I can say is that at the beginning of the book, Hannah has recently gotten out of a relationship, and while the whole situation has clearly had a strong effect on her, there really aren’t very many details about what happened. This is where I assume The Boyfriend Thief comes into play, but again, I don’t think it’s necessary to read it to understand The Secrets Between You and Me.

In the end, I’d give The Secrets Between You and Me a strong 3.5/5, and highly recommend it to fans of realistic young adult books.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: 

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #46: a book written by an author with your same initials.

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