Book Review: Silver-Lined Secrets, by Aleksander Petit
by Bren B. | 02/12/2022
Have you ever gone into reading a book expecting one thing but then the book is nothing like your expectations but in the best possible way? Silver-Lined Secrets, by Aleksander Petit was exactly that for me. From reading the synopsis I thought it was going to be an action packed young adult book about learning to be a spy; what the reader gets from this beautiful story is more of a comfort spy young adult novel. Oh, and did I mention it is queer AF?
The Rowan Institute for Gifted Youth often feels more like a prison to Bailey Lowe than a spy academy. His lukewarm opinion worsens after meeting Oliver, a new student whose ties to the outside world are weaponized against him by the school. To complicate things more, Bailey forms an ill-advised friendship with Lucien, a tenderhearted barista who has taken a suspicious shine to him. This school and the people in it have taken Bailey’s ability to trust, and earning it back is a challenge he may not be brave enough for. But Bailey’s caution isn’t misplaced. An unknown entity is targeting students-Bailey included-and the Rowan Institute staff refuse to explain how or why anyone managed to bypass the so-called “fortress.” Bailey can only hope to be the ace spy the Institute wishes him to be. Otherwise, he risks failing his friends while the illusion of safety crumbles around them. If he’s lucky, they won’t run out of tea first.
The thing that kept me turning the pages of Silver-Lined Secrets was the wonderful characterization of Bailey and all of his many LGBTQIA+ friends at Rowan Institute, but also the poignant illustrations of being a teenage who has been forced into a world they never really wanted all while having crippling anxiety. The book is from the third person perspective of Bailey Lowe, a dexterous combat specialist who is not only navigating the world of high school, but high school at a super private mostly secret spy-in-training boarding school, a school that he and his twin were offered scholarships to without knowing the extent of the curriculum. It follows how he navigates a world he didn’t ask to be a part of and regrets, a romantic break-up with someone who then spends a substantial part of the book trying to force himself back into Bailey’s life, holding a part-time job and developing feelings for a civilian and co-worker at said part-time job, and then the unknown entity that is targeting students and some of Bailey’s friends. Y’know. Spy stuff. Oh, and top of all of that, Bailey’s anxiety.
I absolutely loved how Petit wrote Bailey’s anxiety within the narrative. There are almost poetic lines within the narrative that are so powerful and succinct while driving home the exact feeling Bailey is experiencing on page that I quite literally found myself giving soft gasps or feeling little heart pangs as I read. All in the best possible way. This is definitely a book that I would order in a physical format so I could highlight and underline all of my favorite quotes throughout because there were so many. I will say though that if the reader isn’t someone who is familiar with anxiety (personally or knows someone who has severe anxiety), some of the character choices for Bailey might read a but contradictory. Bailey is the best fighter in his class but he won’t bring himself to wake up to deal with an abusive ex and pretends to sleep instead of dealing with another altercation when chapters before he quite literally flipped the same ex onto an outside walking path because he’d grabbed him without his consent for the second time in row. But that is where I actually fell in love with this book – showcasing how Bailey is in fact a very capable person but his anxiety literally cripples him into inaction at times was heartbreaking. The narrative doesn’t just flip back and forth though. The reader gets ample prose about how Bailey reaches for his scarf, a thing that brings him comfort, it talks about the physical manifestations of his anxiety like bile churning in his throat, how a simple cup of tea can help him settle his mind in certain situations, and so much more.
Not only does the reader get to see the complexity that is Bailey, but the reader also gets to see an incredibly dynamic friend group that is so abundantly queer it consistently made me smile. There is so much LGBTQIA+ representation in Silver-Lined Secrets. Bailey himself is gay, there is a princess who attends the school who is referred to after speaking while sitting in her non-binary (I’m not sure about their gender identity, but the character used “they/them” pronouns throughout the book) partner’s lap as “[character] asks from her lesbian throne,” Bailey’s eventual love interest is transgender, and there are even adult faculty members who are in same sex relationships. There is an adorable scene where Bailey finds a mug like the picture below at a thrift store and his whole group of friends also buy mugs of their own:
The other beautiful thing about Bailey and his friend group is that it goes over consent for touching and hugs between platonic friends. And not only that, but platonic male friends who are both queer. These friends hug, know how to make each other’s tea and what foods they like and their food allergies, and cuddle when one is feeling overwhelmed. Honestly, the narrative focusing on the platonic friendship affection within Bailey’s group of friends was so heartwarming and honestly reminded me of some peak high school queer vibes I experienced around the characters same ages.
Without going into too much detail, I also really enjoyed the narrative through Bailey’s perspective, especially when it comes to his developing feelings for his co-worker. At one point in the first half of the book, they are forced to be in the same place for a while and you see Bailey watch and learn more about his co-worker and decipher his charismatic smile, uncovering an intricate, almost impervious mask that he wears in front of everyone else. As we learn more about the co-worker character and his back story, the mask he wears to placate those around him Bailey identifies as his own shield and coping mechanism for some of his own mental health woes and personal life history. And watching that unravel from anxious Bailey’s perspective, picking up on the little things, noticing small cracks in the mask his co-worker had perfected and especially as they get more comfortable around each other, those moments were so tender and full of emotion and understanding. I liked all of the friend group characters, but the co-worker was one that I legitimately identified with. And the way Petit wrote him, there were moments where I found myself thinking “holy shit, that is exactly the feeling” because he’d written another poetically poignant line that succinctly and eloquently explained the feeling in an abstract way that just made sense.
Another thing that I really enjoyed about Silver-Lined Secrets was the varied chapter lengths. Most chapters are a handful of pages, but some are as short as a paragraph and others are much longer. The varied lengths helped the pacing of the overall narrative and increased tension in key areas. It also made me as a reader constantly think “one more chapter won’t hurt.” This combined with the wholesome friend group dynamics made this book extremely hard for me to put down, especially when the plot kicked into high gear (which I will not spoil for you).
One of my minor criticisms for Silver-Lined Secrets was that there were definitely a few things that I just had to go along with that didn’t make sense given the plot. One was early in the book there is a data breach at Rowan Institute that puts the school on high alert. Students are then given updated security protocols, one of which is that students are not allowed to be off campus without an escort, but Bailey is allowed to keep his part time job off campus and does not have an escort with him during his shift. Just to drop off and pickup. Now I understood that Bailey needed to be allowed to leave campus for certain plot points to work, but there is no justification as to why he is given special treatment. He isn’t told to do espionage work or keep an eye out for anything specific, which would have made more sense that he was allowed to continue work under the guise of a mission or job for the school. Now, having these scenes at Bailey’s work are wonderful and I would miss them if they weren’t there, but I couldn’t help the nagging thought at the back of my head of “why is he even allowed to be here” as I was reading.
The only other minor criticism I have for the book is that there are quite a few characters to keep track of, both students and faculty, and many with the same first letters (Bailey & Benji, Justin & Jason, for example). This is wholly a personal thing but I have a hard time with characters who have names with the same first letter because I’m dyslexic and I easily get characters confused and I end up having to re-read scenes quite a bit to establish who is actually who. But I know that that is 100% a me thing and not a fault of the narrative. With having so many characters, though, there were sometimes where some people blended together in my head because the reader doesn’t see them a lot initially (like Terry & Charlie) and I kept having to refer back to the first few pages to re-establish who those people were. Eventually, though, I was able to keep all of the characters in order, but it did take me about 70 or so pages before they really stuck.
All in all, I really enjoyed Silver-Lined Secrets, by Aleksander Petit! It was heartwarming and comforting while also being an interesting take on the spy genre. It is definitely a series I will keep reading, as it’s the first installment of a trilogy. I want to see more of Bailey Lowe’s story and how it continues to unfold for him and his wonderful group of friends.
4.5 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone who is looking for a young adult book with plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation, or representation with main characters who suffer from mental health and anxiety. Honestly this book is great for a wide range of ages and if young adult isn’t your jam (which it normally isn’t mine), this is still very much worth a read!
Book Provided by Author: The Queerblr was provided a copy of Silver-Lined Secrets for free by the author; this has in no way affected the review and rating of the book that was written by The Queerblr.
Tune in on February 25th for The Queerblr’s release review of Amulet of Wishes, by Rita A. Rubin!