Dirty Little Secrets by c. j. omololu
Dirty Little Secrets is like a TLC reality show, infused with a touch of extra melodrama and an uncomfortable romantic subplot. In other words, some people will be riveted and others will definitely set it aside annoyed. Lucy has slowly carved out a life for herself at her school. She has a best friend and a cute boy who seems interested in her. But her happiness is precarious. She is certain that if anyone learned the truth about her home life, they would reject her unequivocally. Her fears lead her to lie repeatedly to protect her secrets, but nothing will compare to the lies and deceptions that become necessary when tragedy strikes.
When Lucy discovers her mother has passed away, she is consumed with keeping her mother’s hoarding secret and so, she tells no one. Determined to clear out the house enough to show some semblance of normality, Lucy spends the day cleaning, uncovering her past and unpacking her feelings. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who would respond in this manner the death of a parent. While Lucy envisions the future and processes her past, she spends very little time actually considering the fact that she is in the presence of a dead body. At times her actions seem completely callous, which makes her a little less likable and detracts from book overall.
There aren’t many depictions of hoarding in YA, even though I’ve read two in the past month. The danger in this is that when something is only one of a few available narratives, some people take it to be representative of all people in a certain circumstance. In this particularly case, Lucy’s mother shown as very unlikeable and actually abusive. It makes her, and therefore her condition, less sympathetic. I also struggle with the fact that both this book and the other that I read showed a divorced family in which the hoarder had full custody. I cannot imagine a parent abandoning their child to that.
Age Recommendation: Readers in Grades 7 and up. The disturbing bits of the content will definitely upset some readers, but I expect it’s highly personal who would be bothered by this sort of thing.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen’s father is with a 29 year old who is close in age to one of his children. The teen and her friend mention him “doing” her. A teen has a crush on someone. Someone made out with someone else. A teen puts his arms around someone’s shoulder. A seventh grader suspects a friend might have a crush on her older brother. The friend called him “hot”. An adult has a new boyfriend every week. There is kissing.
Profanity – “piss off”, “hell”, “jerk”, “crap”, “ass”, “God”, “screw up”, “asshole”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A teen speculates that another teen is hit by her father. A teen’s parent dies. She is the one to discover the body and examines it thoroughly. Therefore there’s a description of the dead body and some speculation about what the dead person’s last moments were like. A parent is badly injured in a car accident and is hospitalized for a few weeks. A woman hits another in the face with a walker. A teen discovers a long dead pet. A kid gets hit in the head by a stack of falling books. He has a bad bump. Someone drags a dead body. A teen holds her dead parent’s hand. Someone cuts her hand on a vase.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A teen speculates that another teen might be stoned on pills. She speculates that another teen might have an alcoholic parent. A teen got drunk at a party. A teen smokes a cigarette, she talks about how they help you lose weight, which is also gross. Teens drink beer at a party. A teen does show another teen how to drink root beer instead without people noticing. A teen’s mother had a drinking problem, including a DUI that nearly killed someone.
Frightening or Intense Things – Lucy does a lot of lying to cover up her home situation. She also lies to a sibling about her mother’s death. A parent is abusive. A child is allowed into a house with a dead body, but isn’t told about the dead body. There’s an incident of arson.