Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard

Posted by on Jan 5, 2014 in Book Reviews, Newfoundland | 1 comment

seven Summary: Cousins Melinda, Rebecca and Kate of the Derby family are looking forward to spending the summer of 1960 together when Kate arrives in Cook’s Cove from the big city of Corner Brook. On the cusp of adulthood at the age of fifteen, opportunities in the outport community are limited until a stranger from Boston appears and takes an interest in Rebecca’s artistic talent. Torn between the decision all must make to stay or to go, the choice is unexpectedly influenced by family secrets about to be uncovered.

Number of Pages: 189

Age Range: 15-18

Review: I’ve read Mary C. Sheppard before and while her books are full of raw, bittersweet stories of hard choices and sad circumstances, she never disappoints. On her website the Toronto Star review says her books are a good precursor to Alice Munro or Margaret Laurence, but I actually prefer Sheppard over both authors. What is clear is that she deserves to be considered a classic Canadian teen writer.

Sheppard paints a memorable picture of Newfoundland in the 1960s, when fishing was unrestricted and the legal age of marriage began at 12. Three young women are faced with the decision between staying in the small outport community to marry and raise children of their own, or seeking further education and/or fortune somewhere else and all three make different decisions based on their circumstances.

I loved this glimpse into the past and the strong female characters that dominated it, both accepting and cursing their ultimate fates. The stories of Melinda, Rebecca and Kate are compelling and heart-breaking, and I found myself so wrapped up in Sheppard’s book that I forgot to start my reading stopwatch again after doing a Goodreads update because I just wanted to keep reading and see what happened.

What struck me most was the decision Melinda made between the truth and loyalty to her family members and name. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have made the same decision if I were in her shoes. Sheppard sensitively details the growth of all three, but it is Melinda who seems the most adult by the end of the book. She has made her choices and hopes to have a daughter who will make different ones.

As a reader though, I am left wondering: Will Rebecca ever find out the truth or is she doomed to being miserable and feeling trapped by circumstances she doesn’t understand?

Seven for a Secret is part of a seven book series based on an English folk rhyme, but at the moment only three have been published (One for Sorrow and Three for a Wedding). I look forward to Sheppard’s future contributions to Canadian literature.

Memorable Quotes:

“(If you’re still hanging around the kitchen when you’re eighteen around here, it’s a family disgrace.)” – Melinda from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 21

“A thin northern sunshine brought out the daisies and cotton print dresses mail-ordered out of the spring catalogue and meant for a climate other than our blustery, cool summers.” – Melinda from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 25

“Maybe the weather would decide our fate, as it so often did in our lives.” – Melinda from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 52

“‘My baby, my baby,’ was all she choked out as she slid onto the bed to cuddle me. Her silent tears slid down my cheeks. ‘It’s always the same in this place. A girl doesn’t stand a chance.'” – Mae, Melinda’s mother from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 157

“‘You’ll want to believe it’s no one’s business, but you see, my dear, around here, everything is everyone’s business. It’s not for a city girl who likes keep her cards close to her chest.'” – Rebecca from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 168

“I felt her disappointment. My throat hurt with holding it all in. But that’s what I did. It was no use crying a river or going over the what-ifs. We both knew that. We carried on, held our heads high, like the strong Derby women we were supposed to be.” – Melinda from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 174

“I hoped for a girl, a girl who wouldn’t make me a grandmother when I was thirty. Please, dear God. A girl who would use the new road to the outside world. And, I could only hope, be better for it when she came back to us.” – Melinda from Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard, page 189

Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard is published by Groundwood Books (2001).
(Buy this book: Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Booksellers)

One Comment

  1. I loved this book — the voice of Melinda and the strength of the Derby women. Thanks for giving it the attention it deserves — and picking great quotes too.

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