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Literature / Secrets Not Meant to be Kept

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Secrets Not Meant to be Kept is a 1987 young adult novel by Gloria D. Miklowitz. In this novel, seventeen-year-old Adrienne "Adri" Meyer is experiencing angst over problems being close to her boyfriend, Ryan O'Connor, as well as disturbing flashbacks, many of which involve a rabbit. Meanwhile, her sister, Becky, aged three, is undergoing a marked personality change: acting out destructively, having severe nightmares, and expressing gruesome ideas. Everything comes to a head when, with Ryan's help, Adri realizes that she was molested at Treehouse — the same preschool/daycare center her sister is currently attending.

Written at the height of the day-care sex-abuse hysteria, which, for the most part, has since been discredited, this book addresses difficult subject matter, including a pattern of institutionalized child sexual abuse dating back nearly twenty years, with the aim of educating readers about the warning signs of such abuse and the importance of getting help.

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Provides Examples of:

  • The '80s: Evident from the then-current day-care sex abuse hysteria treated as fact in this story as well as references to the Soviet Union.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Adri and Becky's parents are probably a textbook case of how NOT to respond to one's child's disclosures that they may have been molested. They dismiss Adri's angst, and later, disclosures, out of hand and treat her like a fractious child for trying to look out for her younger sister. Only when confronted with a tape-recorded admission from their three-year-old daughter regarding such abuse, do they recognize the true horror of the situation.
    • At least one, maybe two, doctors fail to diagnose physical signs of child molestation properly.
  • An Aesop:
    • For parents, that, although it's perfectly okay to live your adult lives, and preschool and daycare can be rich, wonderful environments for children, you can't simply hand your child off to somebody and not look back, naively assuming everything is okay. Especially when you have compelling evidence that things are most definitely NOT okay. As Adri and Becky's parents say at the end, it is important to listen to one's children and be there for them.
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    • A more minor one, plot-wise, involving teenage relationships, is that sexual activity is a matter of your body, your choice, and it's perfectly okay to say no to anything you are not comfortable with.
  • Arc Words: "I'll let you feed the rabbits ... if ...", the opening line of the novel, is repeated throughout the book.
  • Author Tract: Very much so. Just take a look at this page and count the tropes whose descriptions involve child sex abuse. (Hint: It would be easier to count the tropes whose descriptions do not involve sex abuse.) Of course, given the seriousness of the subject matter and how badly it was handled in Real Life at the time of this book (see this link on The Other Wiki for details), this is definitely a case of Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • Awful Truth: Treehouse is actually a child sex abuse/child pornography ring.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The kids at Treehouse are given live rabbits to care for, who are later killed in front of them. Unlike the Real Life hysteria that gave rise to works such as this, the cruelty has no Satanic connections, and is instead used to terrorize the kids into silence.
  • Beta Couple: Adri's best friend Bev and her boyfriend Jason, to Adri and her boyfriend, Ryan.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Adri for Becky. Adri is initially the only one who is genuinely concerned that something is very wrong with Becky.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Martha Plunkett, a churchgoing, nonsmoking pillar of the community who has been trafficking preschoolers for sex for nearly twenty years.
  • Cassandra Did It: Sort of. When Adri and Becky's mother come home and Adri has the tape-recorded interview proving the sex abuse, the mother initially accuses Adri of putting those sick ideas into Becky's head. Having been present for at least a portion of the actual interview, their father shuts this down hard.
  • Cassandra Truth: Only Ryan believes Adri when she reveals that she had been molested at Treehouse.
  • Caught on Tape: In an example involving the victim rather than the villain, Adri finally convinces her parents of the problem by talking to Becky and tape-recording her descriptions of the sex abuse.
  • Cheerful Child: Adri was noted to be a cheerful child in the past. Becky is initially one as well; her change in personality is one of the signs that something is terribly wrong.
  • Children Are Innocent: Adri and Becky's father almost namedrops this trope in discussing what has been happening to the children at Treehouse.
  • Defiled Forever: In addition to the rabbits, Plunkett and her staff invoke an age-appropriate version of this trope, saying that if the kids talk, their parents won't ever love them again. Of course, like all such warnings from child molesters, this is a lie.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Jason makes a joke when Becky French-kisses Ryan, and everyone else reacts with this trope.
  • Flashback Echo: "I'll let you feed the rabbits ... if ..." The first line of the novel is one of these, possibly triggered by Becky's enrollment at Treehouse. Adri goes on to have continued flashbacks throughout the story. It turns out that Adri is remembering how Plunkett offered her a rabbit to care for as an incentive to go along with the molestation.
  • Foreshadowing: Adri's problems being close with her boyfriend, her flashbacks, her unease around Mrs. Plunkett, and Becky's nightmares all foreshadow the Awful Truth.
  • Harmful to Minors: The premise of the book, that a preschool that has operated for nearly twenty years is secretly devoted to child molestation and child pornography.
  • Hates Being Touched: Adri has difficulty getting close to her boyfriend, Ryan, which is one way the author foreshadows the Awful Truth.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: Adri's parents refuse to even consider the possibility that she might be right until confronted with Becky's tape-recorded statement. Adri's father even names this trope almost word for word when, even with Becky's tape-recorded statement, her mother initially refuses to believe what's going on.
  • Heel Realization / My God, What Have I Done?: When confronted with unmistakable evidence of Becky's sexual abuse, her parents are horrified that they trusted Plunkett and failed to listen to Adri.
  • Human Traffickers: Plunkett and her staff are this, trafficking Becky and the other preschoolers for sex and child pornography.
  • It's Not You, It's Me: A variation, in that Adri is not breaking up with Ryan, she is discussing her difficulties getting close to him. It does lead to Ryan temporarily breaking up with her; however, they do get back together after the whole truth comes out.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: A minor example. In the first chapter, Ryan comments that Becky is precocious, and Adri takes it to mean that her sister is smart. Several chapters later, Ryan reveals what he actually meant: that Becky French-kissed him and got undressed in front of him.
  • Manly Tears: Adri and Becky's father, upon hearing Becky's revelation.
  • Media Scaremongering: Downplayed. Despite arising from a now-discredited moral panic, the author does remind readers that Treehouse is not a typical preschool environment, and stresses that most preschools and daycare centers are actually rich, wonderful environments for kids. Additionally, Miklowitz omits the over-the-top allegations of Satanic ritual abuse found in the real-life hysteria, making the villains conventional pedophiles.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: As noted below, Adri's interview of Becky conforms to the professional guidelines as to how to gather information from very young child molestation victims. However, this Amazon editorial review regards Adri's methods as too professional and sophisticated for something supposedly developed by a couple of teenagers.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: While not profanity per se, a narrative filter is used in describing the sex abuse. During the tape-recorded interview, as Becky is using dolls to demonstrate the molestation, the narrative reads, "the boy doll's mouth was where it had no right to be on the girl doll's body."
  • Nightmare Fuel: In-Universe, the sexual abuse Becky experiences gives her horrific nightmares.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Adri's parents' response to her misgivings about Treehouse, and later her disclosures regarding the sexual abuse she suffered there, like this.
  • Official Couple: Adri and Ryan.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Becky's sudden personality change is a sign that something is terribly wrong with her.
  • Pædo Hunt: In this story, the pedophiles are all too real.
  • Parental Obliviousness:
    • Played for Drama, as Adri's parents dismiss her problems as well as her concerns about Becky out of hand.
    • Considering that Treehouse had been in operation for nineteen years and had a sterling reputation, quite a few parents were oblivious to the problems.
  • Playing Doctor:
    • Except this has nothing to do with innocent curiosity, and everything to do with adults using this as a pretext to molest kids.
    • Bev mentions playing the usual version of the game when she was younger.
  • Potty Failure: Becky's regressing to wetting herself, which she had previously outgrown, is one of the warning signs that something is wrong with her.
  • Promise Me You Won't X: When Adri is about to tell Bev that Jason isn't good for her, she prefaces it by asking Bev to promise she won't get mad. Unlike most examples, however, Bev doesn't get mad, and she and Jason end up taking a break by the end of the story.
  • Public Service Announcement: At the end of the story, the Author's Note directs sex abuse victims to an 800 number where they may obtain help.
  • The Reveal: That Treehouse is a conspiracy to molest children.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: As noted above, this novel was written during the now-discredited day-care sex-abuse hysteria in the eighties.
  • Satanic Panic: Subverted. Although heavily, heavily inspired by the Satanic Panic hysteria, the book itself actually omits any mention of Satan or Satanism as a motivator for the abuse.
  • Shown Their Work: Despite arising from a now-discredited hysteria, the novel accurately depicts warning signs of sexual abuse: genital inflammations, rectal bleeding, acting out sexually, nightmares, sudden detrimental changes in personality, destructive behavior, violent fantasies and ideation, an extreme aversion to a specific place, and regression to earlier behavior, including wetting oneself. Teenagers and adults who experienced sex abuse at an early age can have difficulties with intimacy and experience disturbing flashbacks. Moreover, the book appropriately portrays how to elicit statements from reluctant children: making the child comfortable, asking open-ended questions, not repeating oneself, and, above all, not reacting to what the child is telling you.note 
  • Skewed Priorities: Adri's parents are upset that she has told Ryan of her fears, being more upset about how this will make their family look than over the possibility that Adri could be telling the truth. Adri lampshades this.
  • Super-Fun Happy Thing of Doom: Treehouse, a preschool where children are molested and used for child pornography. Additionally, the "games" that serve as the pretext for the molestation have benign-sounding names like "TV-star" and "hide-and-seek".
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Adri's mother's response to her misgivings about Treehouse is this trope nearly word for word.
  • Title Drop: A near one when Adri, in questioning Becky, tells her that "Some secrets are not meant to be kept."
  • Trauma Button: When Adri and Ryan take Becky to the zoo, an attendant at the petting zoo area offers to let Becky feed the rabbits, causing Becky to throw a fit. This triggers Adri as well, who has a much more detailed flashback of her own molestation than before.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Becky French-kisses Ryan, and he later discloses that this is not the first time that has happened. He also discloses that, in playing a game of hide and seek, she took off her clothes in front of him, saying that that's how the game is played.
  • Ventriloquism: When interviewing Becky, Adri speaks through Brown Bear, a teddy bear, and has Becky tell "Brown Bear" about the molestation.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Martha Plunkett, the head of Treehouse. As Ryan comments, she is a pillar of the community, a regular churchgoer, and a nonsmoker.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Plunkett and her staff. For twenty years, they sexually and psychologically abuse preschoolers, exploiting them for child pornography.