Janssen hit something on the head last week in stating that there has been a lot of hype over a number of young adult titles lately that just don’t live up to it. There have been some big budgets on a number of titles — especially debuts — that have left me wondering what the point was. However, one book has slid under the radar for a few months now, and it’s thanks to a colleague across town from me that I picked it up and immediately decided I needed to order it for my library collection.
Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu, weighing in at just about 200 pages, packs an unbelievable amount in a short book. It is worth every minute of your time.
Lucy keeps secrets. Her best friend doesn’t know them. Her soon-to-be boyfriend doesn’t know them, nor will he. The secrets remain between her and her mother, as well as her distance brother and even more distant sister.
The secrets are the items her mother hoards in their home.
Lucy’s mom keeps everything, from old, rotting food, to Christmas gifts meant to be given years ago. Her mother seems normal from the outside, working in a medical facility, but she is far from okay both inside her house and inside her own head.
Unfortunately, we never get to know Lucy’s mother. She dies immediately in the book. But Lucy ISN’T sad about it. In fact, she’s terrified that the secrets will get out, and she cannot imagine a fate worse than making the news for living in a house of squalor.
Dirty Little Secrets takes place over the course of just over one day. Lucy is a character who you will be unable to forget, as she drags the reader through emotional torment. At once, I feel sorry for her mother and hate her mother, but throughout the book, I was far more concerned about Lucy. I wanted her to be safe and get out, and I wanted her to overcome the troubles she had been keeping without ruining a sweet budding relationship with a boy. She’d never had one before, of course, thanks to keeping the secrets.
We are dragged through this house and the accumulation of things in this book, and in such a manner, we are completely invested in Lucy’s safety. Although it would be easy to label her heartless about the death of her mother, we also see how this is a moment of liberation for Lucy. She covers her mother in a sheet and sets to getting things clean enough at home to make rescue less about the mess and more about the loss of life.
But it is her meddling sister that won’t let this happen as she wants.
I can’t write more about this book because the ending is completely unexpected and utterly fitting. Dirty Little Secrets left me near tears throughout the entire story, though the very end almost made me smile. I felt Lucy’s decision.
Omololu’s story never once feels rushed or overwritten. It was extremely well executed, and the pacing was spot on. When I was 10 pages from the end, I worried there was going to be a sequel to end the story; fortunately, a strong writer pulled off a surprise twist that makes this a stand alone knock-out of a book. It is completely realistic and explores a hidden world that we do indeed only hear about in the news. Although Omololu states she doesn’t write from experience, her work is informed through her work with a hoarder’s organization.
This book was so compelling and so important that I nominated it for ALA’s BFYA consideration. It is my hope that it gets much-deserved attention that way.