See more of my reviews at Once Upon a Prologue
Prior to Dirty Little Secret, I’d never read a Jennifer Echols book, despite hearing many accolades from the blogging community. I’m sad to say that my first experience with Echols was not the positive one I’d hoped it would be. Despite a premise involving country music – my first and oldest musical love – and set in my state – Tennessee – everything I thought I’d love about Dirty Little Secret left me wanting in so many ways. Though there were things and characters I liked, ultimately I felt really let down after finishing Dirty Little Secret, and it left me in search of something to take away the bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. Guys, we need to talk about Bailey. I can’t with characters like her. Bailey spends the ENTIRETY of Dirty Little Secret moping around, whining, and waxing on about how she can’t POSSIBLY do what SHE wants to do, or else her parents won’t pay for her college. AND?! Instead of finding the courage to TALK to her parents (who are shitty parents for so many reasons) about what she wants to do with her life – play music – or – GASP – just DO something, Bailey makes a half-assed attempt at rebelling, which is really just one poor decision after the next. At first I tried really hard to feel SOMETHING for her other than annoyance, and I guess I felt bad for her at a few points. But watching her moan about how hard her life was when she refused to do ANYTHING to change it? Yeah, no. Maybe it’s because I’m so anti-that in real life, but I didn’t like Bailey. At all.
Did I mention that Bailey judges people? A lot. At one point when she meets Charlotte (a secondary character), she goes ON about how basically dowdy Charlotte looks, and makes assumptions about her. That ticked me off, majorly. Also, Bailey is apparently a fixer, and meddles in friend’s lives, even though she won’t let them into hers. Initially, I thought Bailey would be really self-aware, but even that hope went down the drain the more I read of Dirty Little Secret.
Now, I want to touch on her family. Clarification: I want to rant about her family. This trope in YA literature where the families are dysfunctional? It needs to go away. Like anything, once it’s overused and tired, it should be done. And this trope? It’s been rode hard and put away wet, so let’s get rid of it, m’kay?
So, here’s the deal. Bailey’s parents are big into music and she and her sister, Julie, caught the bug. They did a circuit of bluegrass festivals to hone their craft, and they’re each good in their own ways. A record company signed Julie, and didn’t want Bailey. Did their parents comfort Bailey? Encourage her to continue playing/singing? Encourage her to chase her dreams? No. She was understandably upset over the rejection, so she entered her rebellious phase and her parents kicked her out and FORBID her her to play music. What the fuck sort of parents DO that to their child? Also, because of some of the poor choices she’s made, and her sister’s rising star (like seriously, you’d think Julie is the next Carrie Underwood the fuss that’s made over her at the BEGINNING of her career) her parents even make her stop using any social media, and basically disappear. They’re that afraid of her damaging Julie’s “career.” (Did I mention this is all before Julie has even had a single hit the radio? Oh, but she’s playing the Opry. Wow.) So, no, this is not parenting. This is the WORST kind of parenting. I get they were mad at Bailey but once more, NO.
And the romance. My gosh, I am tired of reading about girls who stay with the wrong guy. Look, ladies. If you aren’t meant to be together, it’s okay. You’ll survive. It’ll suck, and it’s going to require a lot of chocolate, tears, and time, but have some self-respect! I wanted to kick Bailey in the teeth and I wanted to shake Sam because although I liked them both as characters, they were a hot mess as a couple. Bailey refused to open up and let Sam in, and Sam was so set in his ways, and together they cancelled out any chance of having a healthy relationship. Cause let’s be clear. Even when we see them happy, they’re NOT healthy. I want to go into specifically the things that Sam did, but that would be spoilers. Suffice to say despite his introduction and the fact that I was prepared to swoon over him, I ended up wishing he’d just go away and take his smooth-talking self OUT of Dirty Little Secret. I wanted to have a girl talk with Bailey and tell her to HOLD OUT for someone DECENT who deserved her, because even though I didn’t like her, I STILL didn’t wish Sam on her. Characters like Sam – who always have their own agenda, and who put it before loving others – are NOT romantic, and they don’t deserve to be valid love interests.
And let’s not even talk about how the romance develops not over weeks, or months, or a year, but within DAYS. I despise insta-love, and that’s what this was, pure and simple. There aren’t any scenes where Bailey and Sam really get to know the other – oh no, they’re both too DAMAGED for that. Instead, Sam keeps secrets, and Bailey lies and the relationship gets more dysfunctional and vomit-worthy by the page. Is there chemistry? Yes! And Echols DOES do a good job of showing versus just telling us about Bailey’s feelings for Sam. But again, there’s no deep, emotional connection. It’s just two people who are attracted to one another, mistaking that for more, and trying to label their train wreck of a relationship as healthy.
Okay, I can’t keep going. I mean, I COULD. I could rant all day, but since it seems like I hated Dirty Little Secret, let me get to the very few things I DID like about Jennifer Echols’s book.
The pacing was decent in Dirty Little Secret – not stellar, because I was still vaguely aware of how FAST this one moves. The secondary characters were fairly compelling, and I actually wanted to know more about them, especially Charlotte, and Julie, Bailey’s sister. And the writing style was pleasant to read (and is probably one of the main reasons I may read another Echols book.)
Final Thought: Perhaps my expectations were too high after hearing so much praise for Jennifer Echols, but Dirty Little Secret let me down, and made me mad, and just TIRED. I don’t like dysfunctional families, and unhealthy relationships, so those tropes in this one really irked me, plus I never liked the main character, so all in all, Dirty Little Secret is NOT a book I enjoyed.