Release Date: May 13th, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: 2 stars
Word rating: this European is whelmed
Reviewed by: Ellis
Growing up in a house of female morticians, Lily Graves knows all about buried secrets. She knows that perfect senior-class president Erin Donohue isn’t what she seems. She knows why Erin’s ex-boyfriend, hot football player Matt Houser, broke up with her. And she also knows that, even though she says she and Matt are just friends, there is something brewing between them—something Erin definitely did not like.
But secrets, even ones that are long buried, have a way of returning to haunt their keeper.
So when Erin is found dead the day after attacking Lily in a jealous rage, Lily's and Matt’s safe little lives, and the lives of everyone in their town of Potsdam, begin to unravel. And their relationship—which grew from innocent after-school tutoring sessions to late-night clandestine rendezvous—makes them both suspects.
The good news is that The Secrets of Lily Graves is a really quick read. Even though the story isn't all that compelling and focuses more on everyday high school life than the actual mystery, I can't say I was bored to tears. It wasn't exactly predictable, but I wouldn't call it suspenseful either. The problem is that I'm trying to think of what happened - I read the book about three months ago - and while I easily remember the major plot points and how the mystery unfolded, none of the characters are memorable, except for those that annoyed me. Even then, "annoying" isn't exactly a solid personality trait.
The lack of suspense is such a disappointment, especially considering how explosive an opening this story has. Lily's just hanging out in a graveyard, when all of a sudden, her classmate Erin attacks her and beats her up. Totally an appropriate reaction when you think your boyfriend is cheating on you with his tutor, right? Even though her mother is dating a police officer- this will come in handy later - Lily never makes a formal complaint, because she doesn't want it to become a "thing". Too bad that a few hours later, Erin is found dead in her bathroom,. It's first believed to be a suicide, but it soon turns out to be a homicide and who is the primary suspect? That's right. The girl with the bruises. Oh, and the allegedly cheating boyfriend, of course.
Speaking of that police officer, he's such a class act that when Lily comes homes with scratches and bruises, he thinks it's très amusant to refer to it as a "catfight" and ask who the lucky boy is. Luckily, Lily is just not having his sexism, which made me slow clap it out. If it weren't for Bob the Sexist, Lily's family would have been perfect. I like how she, her mother, her aunt and her grandma all live in the same house, which is, by the way, in the same building as the morgue, i.e. the family business. Lily is very interested in keeping the family business alive. She secretly interns with her aunt, who preps and treats the bodies, and in her spare time, she relaxes with a good book on corpses or something. I think the science is pretty accurate, and it was actually really cool to see.
Unfortunately, that's about it for things I liked. I already mentioned it before, but the central conflict - Erin's murder - quickly gets pushed to the background in favour of Lily's everyday life. I wasn't impressed. The amount of drama and vileness was just exhausting. Imagine the Mean Girls set-up. In this version, the Plastics are named the Tragically Normals, while these people:
a.k.a Lily and her best friend Sara in this scenario, are the Happily Twisted. It annoyed me that the only reason they hated on the popular kids is because they're popular. That's like the "if you can't insult rich people, then who the hell can you?" argument. It just doesn't work that way.
Now, there's this instance where one of the popular guys fat-shames one of Lily's friends. If Lily had let on that this is why they don't like the popular clique, because they're stuck-up and entitled and think they can just to and say whatever they want, it wouldn't have bothered me, but nope, she still just hates them because they're really popular, and normal to a rather tragic degree, apparently. The solution to this situation is just that Matt, probably to impress Lily and/or show he's actually a decent guy, fat-shames the original fat-shamer, who happens to be his friend. For some reason, this makes Matt into a good and sympathetic guy. For the same reason, my eyes almost rolled out of their sockets. I already didn't like his sketchy shenanigans before, and this attitude certainly didn't help.
It's really too bad, because the one thing that can save an otherwise unimpressive book for me is the ship. There was some backstory about Lily tutoring Matt, but I never really connected with that story line either. Having read Strohmeyer's YA debut, Smart Girls Get What They Want, I was so disappointed. The thing is, I initially didn't ship the main ship in that one either, but the hilarity and general cuteness won me over in the end. I'd hoped that would eventually end up being the case here as well, but the humour fell flat, as did any attempt at the adorbs. The title confuses me as well, because besides Lily tutoring Matt and him wanting to dump Erin for her, which pretty much was a given in the first few chapters, there really aren't any secrets concerning these two. The synopsis makes it all sound much more dramatic than it actually is.
As for the mystery, it felt very underdeveloped. It serves more of a background function, which translated to the mystery part of this novel seeming very basic. There are the usual red herrings and random suspects, most of which don't even seem like genuine options. The few hints dropped throughout the middle 80% of the novel are few and far between, but if you don't accidentally read over them - they're just that subtle - they're actually pretty easy to figure out. A lot of things start happening in the last 5%, and I've got to hand it to The Secrets of Lily Graves, even after all the meh I'd had to wade through before, it still managed to engage me those last few pages. Unfortunately, my standard reaction by that point had become "of course". Not only is this book very mystery lite, the mystery in itself is pretty basic and, to be honest, a mess.