Title: The Dirt Diary
Author Anna Staniszewski
Pub. Date: January 7, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Sourcebooks!!)
Summary: WANTED: Maid for the most popular kids in 8th grade.
Cleaning up after the in-crowd gets Rachel all the best dirt.
Rachel can’t believe she has to give up her Saturdays to scrubbing other people’s toilets. So. Gross. But she kinda, sorta stole $287.22 from her college fund that she’s got to pay back ASAP or her mom will ground her for life. Which is even worse than working for her mother’s new cleaning business. Maybe. After all, becoming a maid is definitely not going to help her already loserish reputation.
But Rachel picks up more than smell socks on the job. As maid to some of the most popular kids in school, Rachel suddenly has all the dirt on the 8th grade in-crowd. Her formerly boring diary is now filled with juicy secrets. And when her crush offers to pay her to spy on his girlfriend, Rachel has to decide if she’s willing to get her hands dirty…
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
I’ll get this out of the way by saying I would have enjoyed The Dirt Diary so much more if it hasn’t been watered down with simple language more suited for a Kindergarten class. Writing a Middle Grade (or even Young Adult!) novel does not mean the language needs to be dumbed down. Some of the most thought-provoking and powerful novels I’ve ever read have been targeted toward children, authors!! The characters in The Dirt Diary are in 8th grade, gearing up for high school. Let that sink in. High. School. The way 14-year-olds speak and interact is far different than the interaction of a group of five-year-olds, yet it’s all the same to Ms. Staniszewski. Admittedly, there were two characters who said ‘hell,’ but the main character sticks to Helsinki and holy bean dip. Even ignoring the characters’ speech, The Dirt Diary‘s writing is extremely juvenile. The novel breaks the cardinal sin of literature over and over: it tells rather than shows.
As for the story itself…the summary is a bit misleading. It makes the story sound a bit Harriet the Spy-ish, which isn’t the case at all. Rachel’s parents recently split, her father moving to Florida to start up a scuba diving business. Her mother is now faced with having to take a second job – a cleaning business – and asks Rachel to tag along and help out. That money Rachel stole? She used it on a plane ticket. She concocted a plan to fly down to her father (all the while keeping it a secret from her mom) and somehow making him realize he needs to come home and be a family again.
Because the houses Rachel and her mother clean are in their neighborhood, many of the children go to Rachel’s school…and that’s not a good thing. It’s one thing picking up the dirty underwear of the twin boys in the grade below her, but it’s another thing entirely to scrub the toilets of her mortal enemy. Especially when there’s a cute brother involved (who refers to Rachel as Booger Crap). The more Rachel visits these houses, the more she uncovers about her fellow classmates’ lives and what she discovers could be dangerous.
The Dirty Diary is a super easy read; I finished the book in one sitting. The plots move along quickly enough, though they’re a bit disjointed and half-hearted. Mixed in with the divorce storyline and these secrets Rachel uncovers, there’s a story I wished had been explored further. Rachel’s passion is baking. She channels her emotions through cupcakes and brownies and keeps a notebook full of recipes (the majority being her own creations). The previous school year Rachel had entered a bake sale and wound up taking second place. This year she’s determined to take first. I loved this storyline and wanted to see it progress. The goodies Rachel bakes had my mouth watering the entire time (hello, banana nutella swirl brownies!), but it was spoiled with the hurried conclusion. The bake sale arc wrapped up so quickly I was caught off guard.
My largest problem with The Dirt Diary was how Rachel reacted upon discovering secrets (or, in some cases, what she misinterpreted). Her first reaction is to giggle and make fun of people. One of the resident Mean Girls is depressed and Rachel discovers it’s because her father recently passed away. Rather than comforting her, Rachel thinks about how this girl will no longer be popular – she’s wearing sweatpants to school! Upon discovering a package of adult diapers at her vice principal’s house, Rachel immediately thinks about how juicy this is and has to stop herself from laughing in his face the next time she sees him. That scene nearly pulled me out of the book completely. Rachel’s actions were awful and disgusting.
While the story itself was enjoyable, so many things about The Dirt Diary made me upset, and in some instances, positively livid. Initially this had been a three-star book, but the more I wrote and the more I thought back on this story, the angrier I got. I can see a younger crowd liking this book, but unfortunately, The Dirt Diary just wasn’t for me.