Review: Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

Title: Dirty Little Secrets
Author: C.J. Omololu
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Pub. Date: February 2, 2010
Genre: YA
Main Themes: Hoarding, Friendship, Family, Mental Illness, Secrets
Pages: 212
Plot (from GoodReads):
Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.

For sixteen years, Lucy has kept her mother’s hoarding a secret. She’s had to — nobody would understand the stacks of newspapers and mounds of garbage so high they touch the ceiling and the rotting smell that she’s always worried would follow her out the house. After years of keeping people at a distance, she finally has a best friend and maybe even a boyfriend if she can play it right. As long as she can make them think she’s normal.
When Lucy arrives home from a sleepover to find her mother dead under a stack of National Geographics, she starts to dial 911 in a panic, but pauses before she can connect. She barely notices the filth and trash anymore, but she knows the paramedics will. First the fire trucks, and then news cameras that will surely follow. No longer will they be remembered as the nice oncology nurse with the lovely children — they’ll turn into that garbage-hoarding freak family on Collier Avenue.
With a normal life finally within reach, Lucy has only minutes to make a critical decision. How far will she go to keep the family secrets safe?”

After reading the plot summary of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, I was both horrified and intensely curious. I couldn’t imagine how Omololu could make such an extreme situation work. In fact, I worried throughout the entire novel about how it would all be resolved, but I honestly cannot think of a better or more satisfying conclusion than the one Omololu wrote.
Omololu picked an extreme situation as the focus for a novel, not to mention for a debut novel. I’ve never read anything about the subject of hoarding, but I’ve always had a sort of fascination with it. I think that Omololu’s portrayal of hoarders, and living with hoarders, was written in a way that I could imagine how such a situation like the one in the book could develop. It seems almost too crazy to be possible, but when one considers that hoarders have a psychological compulsion to do so, it is a lot easer to imagine.
I’m so glad that Omololu wrote a YA novel. Not only does DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS expose teen readers to the subject of hoarding, a largely undiscussed topic, having a younger narrator really made the story come to life. Lucy’s age brought SECRETS to a whole new level. She knows that her mother has a compulsion to hoard, that she really can’t control her hoarding, yet her youth impedes her ability to get help for her parent and pushes her towards hatred towards her mother and bitterness. If Lucy had been older, SECRETS would have been a completely different story – a story that I think I would have found lacking.
Omololu has the amazing ability to make me actually feel Lucy’s emotions. I think I had such anxiety about how the story would end because it would have had such a dramatic impact on Lucy, and I so wanted her to be free of her mother’s madness. So many novels just end with a wrap up; the action is, understandably, the climax. SECRETS, however, kept me guessing and on an emotional high all the way to the last page!
Ratings (out of 10):
Plot: 10
Characters: 10
Writing: 10
Romance: 10 (minor, but strong)
Originality: 10
Total: 50/50 (A!)
Cover Comments:
I love the cover art. Not only are the colors gorgeous, the content and layout perfectly correspond to the plot. I love the girl’s face as well; she looks so uncertain and afraid.
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