Author: Maria E. Andreu
Genre: Young Adult
Disclaimer: An ARC of The Secret Side of Empty was sent to me by the publisher.
Review: The Secret Side of Empty is a story about M.T., a high school senior living in a small town of Willow Falls whose parents brought her into the US from Argentina as a small child. She goes to a private Catholic school, speaks good English, has good grades and close friends. However, her secret status as an undocumented immigrant means she has few prospects after she graduates. And as the school year continues, her future is becoming more and more uncertain.
What attracted me to this novel in particular is the immigrant connection. Having myself immigrated (albeit legally) as a teenager, I was curious to read a novel that would explore this experience. The Secret Side of Empty also touches a number of other topics: poverty, abusive family, first love, and after-graduation choices. The story covers a large range of topics, so many would find something to relate to in M.T.'s story.
I liked M.T.'s character. She challenges herself in school, has a cool best friend, makes money on the side by tutoring, and is pretty self-aware about the problems that she experiences with her abusive father. Everything is going rosy with M.T.'s amazing new boyfriend when she suddenly completely falls apart mid-way through the book. I was a bit surprised and somewhat unconvinced by her sudden depression stemming from her favorite teacher moving away. Maybe I just never had a sufficiently good high school teacher and maybe the teacher moving away is just the final straw, but it felt like a huge over-reaction to me.
The novel keeps a good pace from that point, adding more and more narrative tension until the main conflict is resolved. The writing is pretty typical for YA -- easy to read and gets the story across. I was sufficiently drawn into the plot to finish reading it quickly. I liked the ending, but wasn't particularly surprised by it.
What did surprise me was how much I liked M.T.'s mother. She was pretty amazing throughout and completely unappreciated (in a typical teenage way). Despite being a secondary character, I felt connected to her and wished more of her story made it into the book. On the other hand, M.T.'s best friend Chelsea never actually stepped out of the cardboard for me. She seems more like a prop to M.T.'s story and Chelsea's secret, which comes out at the end, is really a bit of a let down.
Overall, The Secret Side of Empty is a quick and enjoyable read in which many would find something interesting, but not particularly stellar in any given aspect.