Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing
Two eleven-year-old girls, Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller, find an unattended infant and decide to take care of her. Several days later, the police find the baby, Olivia, dead in an abandoned shack. Ronnie and Alice are sent to juvie for seven years; they serve their time and are released on their eighteenth birthdays.
But then a toddler who looks almost exactly like Olivia’s little sister, Rosalind, goes missing–and Alice and Ronnie are the main suspects.
And now, cut for spoilers, because I cannot explain what’s wrong with this hot mess without revealing the ending.
Again, Lippman sought to explore racial and class tensions in the Baltimore area, but this time around…whoo, boy. She did not do a good job. Olivia Barnes was black, and her family members are dangerously stereotypical. Cynthia Barnes, Olivia’s mother, is arrogant, self-centered, and beyond entitled: it’s not that she’s a bad mother–she’s a remarkably loving one, actually–it’s just that she doesn’t give a shit about anyone who isn’t “hers.” She’s pretty much a stereotypical “domineering” and “uppity” black woman, which is problem number one. Problem number two is the weird emphasis Lippman places on “café au lait” Rosalind, who is described as having a “cascade” of ringlets. Even poor dead baby Olivia, who is treated as an also-ran in the looks department to Rosalind, had green eyes. Emphasizing “white” characteristics in your nonwhite characters? Yeah, that’s not problematic at all. Knock that shit off, Lippman.
Also, Lippman comes out as a fat hater in this book. Alice, one of the two pre-teen murderers, grows up to be one hefty broad, and guess what? The fattie is a baddie, no joke. The prologue is from her point of view, and it initially makes you think that Ronnie is the real sicko of the two. But guess what?! Turns out that Alice is actually the sociopath of the pair! But really, you’ll know that from pretty much the second the two are released from prison, because Alice is fat and just keeps getting fatter, whereas Ronnie is thin, thin, thin.
See, authors? This is why stereotypes are made of suck. Leaving aside the damage they do to our psyches, it’s like putting a blinking neon sign above your character’s heads that says, “This one did it!”
Recommended for: Skip it, kids. This one is definitely not worth the pain.