Growing up, when my family would visit relatives in New York we would sometimes adventure to Lake George, so the nostalgic sentiment attached to the setting in Emily Liebert’s new novel was something I could instantly relate to. Blissful Lake George (and a charming beach house therein) is the source of old memories and forgotten feelings when friends Sloane, Hillary, and Georgina steal away from their lives for a summer in Those Secrets We Keep. Sloane is still reeling from a tragic loss, and the predictable trajectory of her simple life with husband Eddie and nine year-old daughter Maddie has her feeling desperate for air. Sharing in the domestic discontent, Hillary has been harboring a secret that could ruin her marriage to husband Greg – a marriage that has been balanced precariously on the hope of starting a family. When Sloane and Hillary leave their troubles behind in Brookline for the sunny tranquility of Lake George, they’re surprised by an addition to their party: vivacious Georgina, who’s never had a problem that her family’s money or her own penchant for booze and poor judgment couldn’t solve. But Georgina has her own secrets to keep, and her friends soon start to realize that perhaps the outer flamboyancy is hiding an inner heartbreak. To complicate things further, Sloane comes face-to-face with her once-upon-a-summer love, charismatic Luke Fuller, whose sly smile and quick charm once held a deep enchantment for her. As Georgina and Hillary struggle with the weight of their own personal issues, Sloane finds herself at a crossroads that could shatter her seemingly perfect world.
With her fourth novel, Liebert takes her readers thoroughly into the lives and passions of three vastly different women, exploring not only what makes each of them tick, and how they handle the most vulnerable moments of their lives, but also digging into the dynamics of their own friendships. Sloane and Georgina's relationship embodies that of best friends who rarely see eye-to-eye, the ones who may not always treat each other with the utmost respect yet ultimately rely on each other to complete them in some cosmic way. Georgina and Hillary, meanwhile, represent the spark of new friends finding common ground and lasting feelings where they expected to find jealousy and discontent. In every aspect, the friends present a gateway into the trials and pitfalls that make some of our deepest friendships both the most challenging and the most important relationships of our lives.
While Those Secrets We Keep has all the makings of a classic beach read, the novel also redefines the genre, infusing it with both substance and sentiment. Liebert exercises plenty of grit in her storytelling, never fearing to delve into difficult territory – be it infidelity or the search for identity – with grace, honesty, and a touch of lightness. In their experiences across the pages, the characters run the gamut emotionally, and the author pays diligent attention to the nuances of their feelings so that the reader can truly take that journey with them from beginning to end.
It’s always daring to write characters who are well and truly flawed, but in a novel like Those Secrets We Keep these flaws become a necessity in order to connect with the characters and understand their struggles. Due largely to her keenness for evoking empathy and her willingness to dig deep, Liebert captures the varying (and sometimes less relatable) struggles that women face and exploring the reasons why we keep such struggles secret. With smart prose, a charming setting, and a refreshing dose of honesty, Those Secrets We Keep is a luminous and thought-provoking novel of friendships lost, gained, and found again. It’s at once an escape to an idyllic beach where anything can happen, as well as a compelling narrative on the weights that complicate our lives, ultimately concluding that our friendships may be just the thing to pull us onto higher ground when we need it most.