CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 2 . . . . September 9, 2011
Betsy Wickwire makes the mistake of insisting her boyfriend and her best friend dance together at the prom, and from that point, Nick and Carly are a couple. When Betsy thinks it over, she realizes the attraction likely started long before that and that she was, undoubtedly, the last to figure it out. Betsy feels that life, as she knows it, is over. She first chooses to hibernate in her room, avoiding any social contact and literally killing her cell phone. Enter Dolores Morris, a social misfit who was never in Betsy's circle of friends and someone Betsy happens to meet when she goes to an out-of-the-way cafe in order not to see anyone she knows. Dolores picks up on Betsy's off-hand comment about cleaning houses to make some money. Suddenly, Betsy finds herself as one half of the Lapins de Poussiere house-cleaning partnership which is not exactly the popular social whirl she anticipated for her last summer in Halifax before heading to McGill University.
Vicki Grant has authored another wonderful young adult novel with lots of humour, interesting characters and twists and surprises in the plot. The book veers from the expected "girl dumped by boyfriend finds someone new" romance theme. Betsy meets Murdoch in a hilarious moment while cleaning his house, and their friendship develops, but Murdoch is a most unlikely romantic hero. Betsy unexpectedly learns to take pride in her cleaning and is pleased with a job well done. She learns that friends are not always found where you expect, and so 'misfits' like Dolores and Murdoch have a lot to offer despite Betsy's initial hesitation in accepting them in her life. There are many layers in Betsy's personality, and Grant helps both her character and, therefore, her readers examine all of them.
As far as Betsy's 'dirty secret' is concerned, she is amazed to find that most people have secrets of some kind, such as the wine bottles hidden in their homes or the unexpected prescription drugs in their bathroom medicine cabinets. When earrings and other items suddenly are reported missing after she and Dolores have been cleaning, more dirty secrets are revealed. Betsy learns that people often have good reasons for such secrets, but it is better to confront life and its problems rather than just hiding them and hoping they will somehow disappear. Betsy must come to terms with the idea that her life has been a privileged one but others have not been so lucky and so react differently than she does.
Betsy's life has totally changed by the end of the novel, and so has her attitude. She has become a warmer and more accepting person. The transition isn't easy, and Grant puts her main character through a variety of tests and learning experiences in the book. However, Grant does so with humour, compassion and empathy for the teenage world she has created. No doubt Betsy Wickwire's Dirty Secret will join Grant's other young adult novels on a variety of Canadian young adult literary award lists.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.