Imagine a British boarding school. People it with an eclectic group of teens. Set them all down in the 1960s, the decade of freedom, women’s liberation, and the Viet Nam war. Add a little sex and a lot of secrets. Put it together and you have Marthe Jocelyn’s What We Hide, a coming-of-age story that explores questions of identity.
Jocelyn uses an ensemble cast to illustrate the many pressures facing older teens. Initially, each character presents a one-dimensional face to the world. But hidden behind it is a multi-faceted personality that doesn’t always fit the social mask. As one character says, “It’s the way the story is told, what gets emphasized. Or left out.” Through accidental encounters, dialogue, letters, and a screenplay, secrets are gradually revealed. The camouflage begins to crack and each character must decide what parts of their story to emphasize – or hide.
In this character-driven novel, Jocelyn’s complex personalities successfully illuminate the ordinary details of teen life as they struggle with universal issues. Even those who are annoying or hateful cannot be dismissed once we know the factors driving them. But in spite of the serious issues raised, the boarding school setting keeps the tone light. There are some hilarious misadventures, including nighttime pranks and skinny-dipping teachers. The dialogue is wry and amusing, juxtaposing British and American slang to good effect.
Goodhearted and clever, What We Hide will leave readers wanting more from the students of Illington Hall.