I'VE GOT A SECRET, a candy apple book published in 2008 (yes, an oldie but goodie!) by Scholastic and written by Lara Bergen, starts off with a great title, and the book cover shows one girl whispering in another's ear, while just a few lockers down stands who viewers will suspect is the crush of at least one of these girls.
That should get the attention of some middle grade romantic hearts.
Sure enough, the secret involves the boy. The secret also propels the story along at a good clip for quite a ways through the book. We can't help wondering when Amanda, the MC, is going to fess up to her first best friend, Kate, and another best friend (whom she met at summer camp and who moved to Amanda's town) that she lied to them.
I was reminded of Pinocchio's nose growing, a familiar plot that has been reused over the ages and seldom fails. Didn't fail this time, either. The secret in the book is about a lie, one which I can't tell without spoiling the read for you. But, as often the case with lies, once it's told, more lies are needed to cover the first lie, and then more lies to cover those lies, and pretty soon the truth is an ulcer growing in your gut. Luckily, Amanda doesn't get an ulcer, but she does experience some serious stress.
Yet, while the book definitely shows what a nightmare can stem from one little lie, it doesn't come off in a preachy way. The reader is totally engrossed in what's going on, turning pages, anxiously waiting to find out if someone's going to call Amanda on her lies, before she musters courage to bow down and admit what she's done.
I think readers ages eight to eleven will be delighted with this book. Older readers might think the ending a little too pat, that everything's tied too nicely into too big of a bow. Personally, I was looking for more reaction from Amanda's peers once they learned the truth. That doesn't mean I didn't find the events believable. Also, for young readers, I can see where the author wouldn't go too spastic with the reactions, because that would hardly entice anyone in the same predicament into doing the right thing.
If you're looking for perfect pacing in juvenile fiction, this book is a good example. It also does a wonderful job stretching out the tension. You can't help but worry for Amanda each time it looks as though her lies will be discovered in the next paragraph, or the next page. But of course, something always happens to postpone that moment, and that's the best way to draw out the tension. Bergen has an excellent handle on holding just enough information back to keep the book interesting, but not too much as to confuse or frustrate the reader.
She used the Snowball Method for plotting, whereby you start with a small ball, and as the plot progresses the ball gets bigger and bigger, like rolling a snowball. It's the same principle with Pinocchio's nose growing bigger and bigger with each lie he tells.
If you're looking for a good example for how to implement this method of plotting into your work, while still letting your reader get lost in the story so much that they don't recognize it as technique, but simply this girl's reality, these 146 large-fonted pages are for you.