We Never Told

Hollywood East by Diana Altman


Set in an era when unwed mothers were shamed and pressured into giving their newborns away, We Never Told is a slice of America when the Hollywood lifestyle was at its height. That era still haunts us today, because those babies did not disappear; they grew up and went searching. Sonya is determined to unearth her glamorous mother’s secret, but when she finally does, she discovers something much worse than those around her ever could have imagined. 

In its finely observed depiction of family dynamics, We Never Told reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping or Richard Ford’s Canada. This is a compelling novel that deserves to be widely read. 
-Graham Hillard, editor of the Cumberland River Review

WE NEVER TOLD won Gold/1st Place in 2020
Feathered Quill Book Award Contest



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Diana Altman

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This novel follows siblings Sonya and Joan, who’ve always known their mother was unhappy, despite her glamorous life. But when she leaves her young daughters to go to Kentucky and seek treatment for a mysterious tumor in her stomach, they are left without answers and motherless for four months. By the time Sonya finally learns the truth, she begins to think that her mother’s secret is one better kept private.

The Author Stories Podcast Episode 655 | Diana Altman Interview
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Interview: Diana Altman, Author of ‘We Never Told’

Beth Mowbray, June 13, 2019, The Nerd Daily. Read Online

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“Altman’s writing is thoughtful and articulate...The author speaks with sophistication and style about the experiences of American women in the recent past.”

- Kirkus Reviews

Sonya is only 14 when her mother leaves her and her sister to live with their maid due to an apparent stomach tumor. But when the maid watching over them has a heart attack, the girls are left alone for weeks, unable to contact their father who doesn’t know he has visitation rights. Years later, Sonya is horrified when she finds out the real reason why their mother disappeared without a trace for four months. We Never Told highlights the tumultuous lifestyle of unwed women in 1950s Hollywood and the children who were given up due to the expectations placed on women.

Hometown author explores family and history in new novel
Westchester native Altman tells of her youth and her family’s most precious secret against the backdrop of 1950s Scarsdale

- by Mary Walrath - Scarscale Inquirer - Read Online

In elegant families, the omissions in communication are often of more consequence than the information shared.

Diana Altman’s “We Never Told” is a fascinatingly intimate look into a outwardly glamorous, inwardly fractured family, whose bonds are undermined by decades of secrecy.

The adults, stultified by social conventions into face-saving deceits and vagaries, are laid bare in the X-ray eyes of her sensible, precocious narrator.  

Ms. Altman has an astonishing memory, and an uncanny ability to recall logic and emotion through chronological time; her narrator glides from being an inquisitive child into an equally curious adult in a way that unearths past mindsets for the reader.  

Ms. Altman’s prose is wise, comforting, absorbing, and generous. “We Never Told” is a deeply interesting, quietly stunning novel.

- Cintra Wilson (Fear and Clothing, Norton, 2015) New York Times Critical Shopper

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We Never Told tells the story of young Sonya as she uncovers and seeks meaning in her mother’s deepest secret: the real reason she took a multi-month mysterious hiatus from her childhood. When Sonya is no longer a child, but a grown-woman, her mother, Violet, passes away and leaves behind much for Sonya to go through, including a newly discovered half-brother with an unnerving resemblance to Sonya’s uncle. From family secrets to a foregone era when unmarried women were shamed and pressured into giving away their newborns, book club participants will resonate with the characters and may even need to extend their meeting to discuss all that unfolds.

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We Never Told by Diana Altman

The story opens with a discussion between sisters Sonya and Joan after their mother's death. They're going through her papers and find information about the baby she gave away when they were teenagers. This is the crux of the title, the secret they never told. It isn't until the very end of the book that this situation comes back full circle and is hardly the main thrust of the story as related. Usually, I'd be annoyed that such a big thing was strung out so very long but in the reading of this book, I found I didn't mind. It was so engaging a read that I often had to remind myself about the big revelation at the beginning.

Going back and being told through Sonya's eyes about the life she and her sister lived with and usually without their mother, Violet, was a very engaging story. I enjoyed the contrast between the Adlers and the Greenhouses and what both sides of the family brought to Sonya and Joan's sensibilities as they grew into adulthood. The writing is bright and engaging and it winds up that it's all the little things that add up to make it a well done whole. Sonya as the narrator was funny, infuriating, insightful, selfish and sympathetic. She was all around well done. I can't give spoilers but I did find that the parts that showed Sonya & Joan's relationship with their father and what it was like to have a father so much your mother's senior (even though my parents marriage didn't break up in divorce) and having him die when you're just into your twenties, was personally relevant to me and felt very true.

I'd read another by Diana Altman. This reminded me of The Swans of Fifth Avenue because while it's not historical fiction, it feels like it is to me as it begins and spans a part of the last century that is in my mother's memory and experience, not my own. I'm going with this being contemporary fiction as it ends in the present day (Siri is asked to do something on the last page), however. Oh, the genre conundrums!


There are stories relating to women that are as timeless as time itself. As advanced as society may become, there are issues that women and their children deal with that seem never to change. We Never Told is one such tale…Families are a sum total of all of their parts, no child is raised in a vacuum…That is the beautiful lesson of We Never Told. Altman weaves together an incredible story of women, children, families, care-takers…a timely read for today’s generation.

- Macsbooks - book review

Diana Altman


Altman's uncanny ability to yoke the everyday drama out of life and imbue her characters with an emotional complexity makes We Never Told a novel that gets to the essence of what family is. A tale that unfolds with nuance and an endearing sense of humor, this is the kind of writing that is impossible to shake as it bravely mirrors our collective experience of learning to love what feels at times impossible to embrace.
- Liam Everett, award-winning artist

In its finely observed depiction of family dynamics, We Never Told reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping or Richard Ford’s Canada. This is a compelling novel that deserves to be widely read. 
- Graham Hillard, editor, the Cumberland River Review

Diana Altman’s We Never Told is a witty, insightful, compelling novel about a woman’s journey to unlock a family secret that is burning a hole in her life. The deftly told story offers a fresh look at the way childhood myths cast shadows on adult life. This book grabbed me from the first page and never disappointed.
- Nancy Newman, author, Disturbing The Peace

Diana Altman is a brilliantly clever novelist.
- Scott Neuffer, Editor, Trampset.


Diana Altman


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