Bailee Cooper describes herself as a typical oldest child: conscientious, responsible and a workaholic. A freelance editor for Delahunt Publishing, HOUSE OF SECRETS opens with Bailee being offered a promotion to head up the freelance editorial team. But this position would require her to move away from her two younger sisters, for whom she still feels protective --- even though Geena and Piper are adults themselves. The reasons she feels this way is revealed early on. Their mother died when they were young, and the three girls share a secret about her death that binds them together in a special way. And Bailee believes that it’s up to her to hold her family together, both physically and emotionally.
"I definitely will not be keeping this book a secret. It’s a story that needs to be told. And one that may certainly touch your heart."
When their father, Tony Cooper, invites his daughters to spend some time at their childhood summer house, Bailee doesn’t know what to expect. Upon arriving, she and her sisters agree to confront their father about the secret they’ve been keeping. Before they can, however, their workaholic father, who shipped them off to boarding school after their mother’s death, informs them he has remarried and is now a Christian --- and a changed man. This throws the girls for a loop, but they eventually confront him about their childhood secret. When they do, they learn that things aren’t exactly what they thought. The remainder of the story deals with the fallout from that confrontation, as Bailee revisits her childhood and some traumatic repressed memories, and faces the past she’s been running from for so long.
HOUSE OF SECRETS deals with issues that aren’t exactly popular on Christian fiction shelves: mental disorders and schizophrenia. Author Tracie Peterson, best known for her historical novels, does a fantastic job with this sensitive subject matter. She does not come across as preachy or judgmental, but rather shows how difficult and baffling mental or emotional disease can be. This is not a light read, and there are no pat answers. But there is a level of understanding and relatability for the reader. If nothing else, the story brings awareness to a mystifying facet of our humanness.
Various relationships are explored, not only between the sisters, but also with their father. There were a few instances when I didn’t like Tony’s reaction to his daughters, and thought he should’ve been more understanding with the emotions they expressed. But then I concluded that as a former workaholic who dealt with his insecurities by not dealing with them at all, Tony’s reactions were actually spot on. His newfound Christianity --- and his Christian wife --- was a nice touch. The changes in him were subtle, yet caused Bailee and her sisters to take notice of their “new” dad.
The characters Peterson creates are real and multi-dimensional. Although told from Bailee’s point of view, sisters Geena and Piper were aptly crafted with demons of their own, and each was dealt with satisfactorily. I also enjoyed the romantic element between Bailee and her immediate supervisor, Mark Delahunt. A strong believer, he refuses to develop a romantic relationship with Bailee until she’s on the same spiritual page. But he doesn’t hesitate to tell her how he feels and gently prod her to search the condition of her heart. Mark is instrumental in Bailee’s journey to find healing from her past. And he wants to play a part in her future.
I have a secret of my own: HOUSE OF SECRETS is the first book by Tracie Peterson that I’ve read. Since I haven’t read any of her other novels, I can’t compare this contemporary story to her historical reads. What I can say is that it’s a fantastic tale of restored relationships that offers additional awareness of mental health issues. I definitely will not be keeping this book a secret. It’s a story that needs to be told. And one that may certainly touch your heart.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on December 14, 2011