"The Secret Keepers" is a 2016 young adult fiction novel by Trenton Lee Stewart, most famous for his "The Mysterious Benedict Society" line of books. The book is a science-fiction/adventure story, set in a somewhat dystopic setting, as has been the trend in YA literature for some time.

In fact, the setting of the book was one of the first things I noticed, since it is neither in an urban fantasy or fantasy setting. The world is roughly our world, and in fact, Scotland and Switzerland are mentioned, but the country that the book takes place in, whether it is the United States, the United Kingdom, or some other country, is not mentioned. Neither is the time mentioned: the technology is just slightly old-fashioned enough to seem off, but is not archaic. There are microwave ovens and payphones and microfiche, but as far as I can tell, no computers or cell phones or internet. Which gave me the somewhat unpleasant revelation that the technology I grew up with, for the intended audience of this book, would be vaguely quaint.

The semi-real setting of this book had a good deal to do with why it was effective at building suspense for me. It was close enough to real life that I was invested in the book's atmosphere of late rent and dingy alleyways, but surreal enough that I felt slightly unsettled.

The book takes place in the city of New Umbra, where our protagonist Reuben Pedley is a middle school student being raised by a single mother working at a grocery store. Reuben has made a hobby of searching the back alleys of the run-down neighborhood he lives in. While doing so, he finds a hidden device: a watch that can turn the wearer invisible. Although the book is vague on the specifics, it seems like the watch is a type of sufficiently advanced technology. After obtaining and learning to use the invisibility watch, Reuben is hunted down by the mafia boss ruler of New Umbra, a mysterious man known as "The Smoke". With the twin goals of protecting his new treasure,and finding a way for his family to escape poverty, Reuben goes on a quest to discover the history of the watch, and the history of New Umbra. Along the way, he is pursued by The Smoke's enforcers: men called "The Directions" because they always work in a diamond formation.

(Incidentally, it took me almost 200 pages to realize that "protagonist inadvertently comes across a treasure that makes him invisible, and then is pursued by a group of servitors of an unseen figure who wants that treasure" is, of course, The Lord of the Rings, but I can't fault the author for deriving at least part of his story from the most influential fantasy novel ever.)

So when this book reaches its conclusion, what do we have? This is a story about good versus evil, of course, but on a more subtle level, it is a story about secrecy and community. Halfway through the story, Reuben breaks out of the secretive, cynical world he has been living in and physically and mentally goes to an environment that is more open, trusting and communitarian. Stripped of its science-fiction trappings, the book is about a dilemma that many young people start to face at that age: how much can we leave the secrecy and individualism that we have built up to protect ourselves, and learn to trust others. And within the context of being a science-fiction book for young adults, the book has some valuable things to say about that.

This book is almost 500 pages long, and I had a few problems with the pacing, character developing and social context (the book's social commentary, set in a seemingly-fictional locale, seems to avoid mentioning real life social divisions or histories), but overall, I found this book to be a solid and engaging book that had something to say.

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