Review: The Secrets of Lily Graves by Sarah Strohmeyer

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Number of pages: 304
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
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Growing up in a house of female morticians, Lily Graves knows all about buried secrets. She knows that perfect senior-class president Erin Donohue isn’t what she seems. She knows why Erin’s ex-boyfriend, hot football player Matt Houser, broke up with her. And she also knows that, even though she says she and Matt are just friends, there is something brewing between them—something Erin definitely did not like.

So when Erin is found dead the day after attacking Lily in a jealous rage, Lily’s and Matt’s safe little lives, and the lives of everyone in their town of Potsdam, begin to unravel. And their relationship—which grew from innocent after-school tutoring sessions to late-night clandestine rendezvous—makes them both suspects.

As her world crumbles around her, Lily must figure out the difference between truth and deception, genuine love and a web of lies. And she must do it quickly, before the killer claims another victim.

If you’re going to pick up The Secrets of Lily Graves because you’re looking for a kick-ass mystery-thriller read, it may be best to pack your bags and look elsewhere because this book is anything but brilliant. While it did not totally “suck” per se, there was nothing about it that really shone, either. All in all, it was an average read – with a bland and stupid heroine who kept emphasizing she was different, with a plotline that never felt had any proper build-up, and a romance that just never seemed to click with me.

The plot took off at a great start. We’re in the cemetery with our heroine (who comes from a family of morticians), when suddenly, she is insulted and assaulted by Erin, the most popular and saintly girl in school, for supposedly stealing her boyfriend, Matt. The next day, Erin is found dead, and Lily and Matt get blamed for it (an easy scapegoat, as she is at the bottom of the high school food chain), but once it is hinted it may be a murder, our dead-loving heroine resolves to get to the bottom of this. It is at this point that perhaps things start tumbling down, little by little…

First of all, let’s talk about Lily, the narrator of this book. Lily is the school outcast, mainly for her “weird” fashion taste and for her family business that revolves around burying the dead. We are reminded over and over again how different she was to the rest of them, but I actually found her voice annoyingly flat and dull. Like, I get it, she is sooo different compared to the others, but please don’t just throw facts at me and rather show it to me instead. The narration felt too detached sometimes that I never found any depth to her character – like it was all dry bread without any butter. I wanted to get to know about her more, but there was really nothing that could make me connect to her at all, nothing to make me feel that she was a unique heroine, nothing that could make her personality shine… if there ever was one.

Like for example, it is heavily implied that she likes Matt, the jock who asked her to tutor him because he was failing History class, since the start of the novel. But why she likes him doesn’t really get expounded, we’re told she just does. This is probably the reason why the romance never clicked with me, because I didn’t find their erm, “love”, for each other convincing (but, but, but Matt likes her because she was different! Surely that counts? Errrrm, I would have bought it if she actually showed a personality, but I’ve yet to find it at this point).

Not to mention, her blind devotion to Matt was pretty annoying. You see, Matt was also suspected of possibly murdering Erin (how many times do we see domestic violence on the news? Too many, I bet). Any person with the right state of mind would be on their guard towards this person. Whether or not he really was the suspect, it’s always wiser to practice some caution, but every time the heroine gets warned about him, she would instantly be on the defensive, denying any possibility that he was the killer.

I would never distance myself from Matt.

She says this after she is warned to stay away from a POSSIBLE murderer. Like, wow. She has no sense of self-preservation at all. She is super convinced he’s not the killer, despite not having enough evidence to prove he’s not. She even thought there was something wrong with her mother after she told her to exercise some caution! Reading her act like this was honestly quite disappointing. I know she doesn’t have the perfect relationship with her “exercise-obsessed” mother, but thinking the mom was in the wrong for asking something reasonable was just pathetic. And seriously, it was reported later on that he lied to her about certain things, and she still insists on his innocence? Good lord… /smh

(She later is convinced a particular person is the killer for the simple fact she saw him interact with Erin once. And oh, because he spent time in jail. Go figure.)

Matt, on the other hand, was emotionally cheating on his girlfriend, Erin, and I didn’t really appreciate it. I get it – you’re unhappy with your relationship. You’re more afraid that she’ll hurt herself than you care for her because you do. Lily’s not like the other pack of mean girls. But that’s not an excuse at all to keep hanging out with the other girl and then not expect this to blow up to your fucking face. Other than that, he’s really no better than the rest of the “Tragically Normals”, a group comprised of one-dimensional mean kids who’re good in everything and to teachers but downright difficult with everyone else. Mmmokay.

As for the mystery itself… I’m pretty mixed about it. At one point, I was on my toes regarding it, but at the same time, I had a foreboding feeling I knew who it was because one scene gave it away too quickly too early, and it was only a matter of how the book will deliver it. I thought it was handled kind of sloppily, though, because it seemed rush and anti-climatic, like there were no build-up before it (and there’s also that uneasy feeling where you know an innocent man was arrested due to her stupidity…).


* The heroine is stupid and bland, despite her insistence she’s unique and different. In my opinion, she did not showcase any personality at all that would prove this claim, and her blind insistence on certain things took away any sort of enjoyment that I could have had. (If you’re curious, they instead were spent raging about said stupidities.)
* The romance is unconvincing, and the secondary characters are all cardboard cut-outs of the same one-dimensional characters we see in other books.
* The ending feels rushed and anticlimactic. No proper build-up, leading to a climax that does not evoke any strong emotions. Booo.

Recommendation: Read it if you don’t have anything else to read. It’s quick, at least.

Rating Report
Overall: 2.2
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A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena


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    • FayeFaye says

      I know! I really want more compelling and intriguing YA mysteries. The ones I’ve read lately were dull and bland to read, and rarely engaging. Such a shame, indeed!

  1. says

    Oh man i really loved the cover and the synopsis sounded intriguing so i was hoping to get a copy of this one this weekend but now i’m most likely not. it sucks that this one just didn’t work for you and that you were mostly bored throughout!
    Hopefuly yoru next read is better
    lily recently posted…Our Next Read {1}My Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Yeah, it’s a shame but I didn’t find anything compelling about it. The cover, I’m not too keen about it, though. It looks very typical haha. Definitely hoping my next read covers better grounds :)

    • FayeFaye says

      Yes, I wish the heroine actually showed me how different she was instead of trying to force it upon me by constant reminders. Nothing pisses me off more than the “telling, not showing” style. Happy to take a bullet for ya, girl!

    • FayeFaye says

      I KNOW! I’ve read a lot of those stuff where we’re told of one thing but what was shown was contradictory to the initial claim. That upsets me a lot, especially if we’re reminded of this supposed “fact” when nothing at all in the book proves that. Rawr.

  2. says

    I am always in for a good laugh on your reviews, Faye!

    YES, we need more mystery/suspense books in YA, Agatha Christie style. The genre is saturated with dystopian paranormal, which makes me question if that’s one of the only age groups for dystopian paranormal books to appeal to. :-/
    Charlie recently posted…FREE Audiobooks for SummerMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Ooh, I have a friend who absolutely loves Agatha Christie. She would be super happy if there were more books like that. I think there was a retelling of “And Then There Were None” by Gretchen McNeil but it wasn’t really that well done. Oh, well ><

    • FayeFaye says

      Exactly. I wish it wasn’t a half-assed attempt at a mystery thriller. Maybe it if took Matt out of the equation it would have been better… more room for build-up and drama. There are just some books out there where it’s better off without any romance, you know?

    • FayeFaye says

      I’m sorry as well, Danielle! Who wouldn’t love a mystery thriller read? Reading THE WARRIOR by Victoria Scott right now and so far so good!

    • FayeFaye says

      Haha, thankfully you’re not really missing anything here, my friend. I’m reading THE WARRIOR at the moment, and I’m enjoying the ride so far. I’m no doubt it wouldn’t be this kind of trainwreck!

  3. says

    Another young adult mystery novel to pass up. Lily Graves sounds a bit like Clea from Elixer with her unwillingness to stray from the person she loves. At least her potential murder suspect/love interest hadn’t painted pictures of her dead body. How could anyone not run away after seeing that? *shivers* Also, so sorry for this since this is kind of silly and not related to the review, but I can’t help but give a nod when I stumble across another Filipino blogger since I see so few. So hello! (^^)/
    Sabrina recently posted…BloodlinesMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Yup, move along now, nothing to see her. Check out Libba Bray’s THE DIVINERS for a really good mystery read. I love, love, love that book. And you’d be surprised how many Filipino bloggers there are! Hit me up on Twitter and I’ll introduce you to some :)

      • says

        I’ll put it on my tbr! I’m lovin’ the cover and the summary already :) Thanks for the offer, by the way! Unfortunately, I don’t have a twitter account since social media websites and I don’t tend to get along. If I ever bring myself to get off my lazy butt to create one, I’ll be sure to do so!
        Sabrina recently posted…BloodlinesMy Profile

  4. says

    ” she would instantly be on the defensive, denying any possibility that he was the killer….” UM CAN I SAY: AWKWARD AND SCARY?!! Nooooo. That kind of blind love is kind of freakishly creepy. I can’t say I’d want to rush out after this book now…eep. Particularly if the heroine is one fry short of a happy meal. *scratches off TBR*
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…Top 10 Books I Almost Put Down But Didn’tMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Awkward and scary, indeed. If I had a suitor who has mountains of evidence piling up against him in a homicide case, I wouldn’t be the first one defending him. I’d be automatically wary, because a murderer can be anyone, just like how a rapist can be anyone. Hahaha. One fry short of a happy meal XD That’s a very funny phrase! Imma steal it :P

  5. says

    Faye! Drat!! I’ve had this on my wishlist since Rashika reviewed it. I hate that you didn’t like it too (and not just b/c that means the jury is out for me and this book ;) ). I do completely agree with you about being shown vs being TOLD about a character, but then I remember being a partial outcast in high school for very similar reasons as are given for Lily, so I might not have struggled with that part the way you did. Blind devotion to the most-likely culprit, however . . . Sorry, I’ve watched too many cop and investigation shows to not know that 9 times out of 10 the boyfriend/husband/lover did it. So again . . . jury’s out.

    On a completely different note, I can’t believe you didn’t at least snort at Lily GRAVES being from a family of MORTICIANS. *snorts*<——see, couldn't help it ;) Fantastic review (as ever), Faye!
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      I knooow. Rashika loved it way more than me, but there are times I’m just less forgiving than her. Haha. And seriously, with how society is today, boyfriends/lovers/husbands are always suspected of female murders – it’s sad that it’s the norm but that’s how it is and unless they have alibis that prove their innocence, people around them are better off cautious. The fact that he didn’t even have an alibi and the heroine believed in him anyway was just silly.

      Haha, I should’ve caught that one but it passed through me. DRATS!

    • FayeFaye says

      LOL! In that case, you’re better off with another novel to read, love. This one may grate your nerves a bit.

  6. says

    Eeee… It’s tough to really get behind a romance like that, especially if it doesn’t seem like there is any reason behind it. And her blindly worshiping him? Count me out, I hate that! Seriously even if you were in love with the guy if clues/people are pointing to him I’d be putting space between us or having doubt. “She has no sense of self-preservation at all.” BAHA. Anyways, I’ll be taking this off the TBR. :)
    Alise recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday [37]My Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Very very true. I just couldn’t get into their like, attraction, or “love” to each other. It all felt contrived, to be honest. And yesss. If we were my suitor, if I liked him, I would be wary still! You never really know with the people you meet unless you, like, know them for a million years.

  7. says

    URGH! I have to agree, Faye! >< Going into this novel, I was thinking, "hey, maybe this book will be different!" but in the end, it just was predictable, and the protagonist was quite frankly, annoying. At first, Lily seems like an interesting character; she's different! But when she keeps repeating that she's an outcast, and she doesn't fit in with the cool kids, she doesn't like them, the works, it irked me. I wanted more showing, and not the character having to keep excessively blabbing about how different she was! :( I thought maybe I would click with her, but in the end I didn't, which left me disappointed! D: At first the mystery really intrigued me, and there were things I didn't see coming! But after a while, I slowly figured out the pattern and so it got predictable for me too :(
    But fantastic review, Faye! :D <3 I hope something you'll enjoy comes your way soon! ^^
    Emily recently posted…I’m Back! :DMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      I’m so glad we share the same insights, Emily. Her insistence she was different – over, and over, and over, and over again – while not showing it, was just super annoying. I feel much better knowing I’m not the only one who felt this way :D Some of the reviews I read said she was a unique heroine, so I was looking for an ally >.> <.<

    • FayeFaye says

      Haha, that car scene really gave it away, huh? I thought it was weird how affected that person was considering she wasn’t really involved at all, directly or indirectly. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. says

    Oh super yay, another stupid heroine to add to the list. AND, she’s as dull as cardboard? Wow, sounds like a real charmer. Wonder how she hooked the super jock? -_-

    Honestly, the premise sounded SO good, and the mystery sounds exciting too. But bad execution seems to be an ongoing trend these days. If a book is not the best it can be, don’t publish it yet! Sorry this one was so disappointing Faye, I hope the next one is better. :)
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    • FayeFaye says

      I know, right? I would’ve believed their romance more if there was really something he saw in her that reeled him in, but nope.