Review: Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu

Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu
C.J. Omololu's website here // $11.46 from {amazon}

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (February 2, 2010)
Hardcover: 224 pages 
Summary: 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?

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: Dirty Little Secrets was a riveting, inside-look into the life of hoarders. Or, more accurately, the youngest daughter of a hoarder. Lucy's story was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, and I definitely loved the unique premise of this book.

It's not every day you come across a girl that can have her mom die on her and think rationally, aka Lucy. Lucy is strong and independent yet extremely vulnerable, exactly the type of heroine you can immediately relate to and sympathize for. Her strength lies in the fact that she acknowledges her emotions, regardless of how embarrassing or insentive she knows they are. Don't miscontrue that statement - I'm not saying Lucy is heartless, but she realizes that she probably deosn't feel as strongly about her mother's death as she knows she should. However, should Lucy feel strongly about her mother's death? The relationship between Lucy and her mother was intricate and impossible to pinpoint it down into a specific word or phrase. How can you love a woman that effectively isolated and constantly blamed you? A woman that made your life hard and miserable? But Cynthia J. Omololu reveals the duality of Lucy's mother as both a hoarder but also a parent, and I really found myself questioning the mother-daughter relationship. After reading the book, I can definitively see Lucy's mother as an actual person, though I'm still not decided on whether or not she loved Lucy. But that's the beauty of it, no?

A majority of Dirty Little Secrets is told in well-integrated, short flashbacks, and if you're wary of those kind of formats, I'm going to say that so am I. Flashbacks usually throw me off, and I was surprised at how well they fit into the story. In fact, Dirty Little Secrets actually had an entirely different structure than I was expecting; instead of going far forward to find out what happens after Lucy's mother dies, the entire story takes place within the next 24 hours, where Lucy reminisces about her mother and wavers between what she should do about her situation. The flashbacks effectively develop their relationship and the triggers for them made the transition very smooth, though I can't say the same about when the flashback ended. Cynthia Omololu would often end them by saying something along the lines of "but that was not my case" and it got a bit redundant after a while.

There are two reasons this book isn't getting a 5-star: 1) a tad too long and repetitive in the beginning and middle and 2) the ending. "I Love Lucy" and all, but I was really anxious to see when the other characters would come in. Lucy's crush and best friend are spotlighted at the beginning, but they then dissapear until about the last 30 pages, which the most action in the entire book. (I admit I'm an action girl though.) I was also constantly waiting and waiting and waiting for Lucy to realize the futility of her actions. She would after a while, but still! - I'm going to accredit her slight slowness to aftershock and panic from her mother's death. I've talked to Cynthia Omololu and she did say it's part of the point of the book, how Lucy doesn't realize her existing support system, but it's a little annoying nonetheless. Moving on to the ending, it was satisfying and one I definitely did not see coming, but my problem was that I felt everything wrapped up so quickly. The quality was the same, but the ending really left me hanging; I want moooorre. It's not an issue, though the ending made me question Lucy's sanity. Cynthia Omololu developed her conflict well enough that I could justify Lucy's actions, but, ah, so surprising! Or rather, insane. It speaks volumes that I am not sending Lucy to the looney bin right now.

A notable aspect was even when I felt the plot was a bit slow, Lucy's sarcasm always kept me interested. And I find sarcasm one of the most entertaining and hilarious things ever. :)

"I prayed there werem't anny maggots, because I wasn't sure how I would explain those away. High school science experiment? Surburban 4-H?"
- Lucy, pg.128

Romance: A small portion, but cute. Basically the last 30 pages consists of Lucy and her love interest talking and kissing a bit. They fall for each other very fast, but he's the sweetest guy ever and plays a very important role in Lucy's final decision.
Cover: 4.5 - I actually really love this cover. The colors are simple, but Lucy looks very much like how I would imagine her and the window definitely shows the signs of hoarding. Gorgeous!
Writing: 4.0
Characters: 4.0 - Interesting cast, but more background would be nice.
Plot: 4.5 + .25 creativity points

Bottom Line: Gritty, realistic, and disturbing, Dirty Little Secrets is an intricate story that leaves you musing about the possibilities long after the book has ended. I found myself sympathizing with Lucy even when I didn't agree with her actions, and the unique premise of this book really gave me a wake-up call as to the complications and suffering associated with hoarding. Overall, an outstanding debut, and I'll definitely be looking out for books from Cynthia Jaynes Omololu in the future!

Source: Thank you to Anna from Bloomsbury Children's Books!