I have read some Tessa Bailey, but I’m not a completest for her. I’ve enjoyed some of her work in the past, but WOOF this one was a miss. Secretly Yours is overly long, dull, and lacks both depth and interesting characters. This review will mainly be a roast of this ridiculous book, and enumerating all of the ways it is bad. If you’re a Tessa Bailey fan, I think you’ll be disappointed by this one.
Julian Vos is a professor at Stanford, and he’s also a member of the Vos family, the prominent vintners in St. Helena. We are never told what kind of professor he is- it’s something to do with time or history maybe? He’s back at home in St. Helena, living in his family’s guest house, because he’s taking a sabbatical from work to write a book.
Hallie Welch is a local gardener, and she’s been in love with Julian since high school. She’s a chaotic person with a good heart, and she’s dealing with the loss of her beloved grandmother, who raised her. Hallie decides to use Julian’s return to their hometown to see if he remembers her from high school, and if there could be a spark between them.
I’m not really a fan of the secret admirer trope, which is used poorly in this story. Many other reviewers have said that it adds nothing, and I disagree: I think it makes the book actively worse. The only place it matters is at the end, where Hallie’s absence in retrieving a letter to hide it accidentally triggers a panic attack.
The mental health representation in this book is ABYSMAL. I cannot believe I haven’t seen anyone else writing about this! Maybe readers just haven’t noticed it, but it’s truly awful. Julian has an anxiety disorder, and panic attacks, and he has previously gone to therapy. When his coping mechanisms stop helping and start hurting him, he doesn’t, I don’t know, SEEK HELP. Instead, he jumps into a relationship and does a grand gesture. Hallie doesn’t blame Julian for his mental illness, which is good, but Julian doesn’t get treatment. I have said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, MENTAL ILLNESS CANNOT BE CURED WITH LOVE, OR FRIENDSHIP, OR PUPPIES. This is just another iteration of my least favorite naughties trope: the throwing your meds out the window. *sigh* If this book wasn’t so poorly structured, this issue alone would kill it for me.
There isn’t really much of a plot? Julian and Hallie are supposedly finding themselves, but I don’t really see that happen anywhere in the text. Hallie is an interesting character, possibly with shades of ADHD? But she doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s no development, and no real growth. What does she want? Who does she want to be? All we really get is who her mother is, and who her grandmother was. Who is Hallie? I couldn’t tell you. Julian isn’t particularly distinct either- he’s kind of uptight, but what are his interests? No idea. It was also weird that Hallie seems to have no life experience? It’s like she froze when Julian was last in town and has resumed life now that he’s back. She’s never been in a relationship, and that’s not unusual for her age, but why? Give us some context! Tell me what her life is like! Any details at all!
I feel like Bailey tends to write characters as relatable instead of giving them real traits. Hallie is kind of a cringe, embarrassing person, and we’ve all done cringe things. But that doesn’t make her a real person to me. Hallie seems to genuinely be struggling with the loss of her only real parent, and instead of exploring that, she’s kind of infantilized by the people who love her? Like the response to someone you care about acting irrationally following a death isn’t chastising. I do think Hallie has a good support network, they just don’t seem to support her much. Equally, I’m not sure Julian has any friends? He has that WASPy, closed relationship with his family that evolves into being closer by the end of the book, but this man seems to genuinely not have any friends outside of coworkers.
I think the main point is that this book is severely underwritten. I think St. Helena had potential, but the foundation can’t be the house. You need to actually build it, and that didn’t happen. It’s nearly 400 pages of nothing. Give it a pass.