Sunday, February 1, 2015
by C.J. Omololu
Reviewed by Sesana
Four out of five stars
Everyone has a secret. But Lucy’s is bigger and dirtier than most. It’s one she’s been hiding for years—that her mom’s out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. She’s managed to keep her home life hidden from her best friend and her crush, knowing they’d be disgusted by the truth. So, when her mom dies suddenly in their home, Lucy hesitates to call 911 because revealing their way of life would make her future unbearable—and she begins her two-day plan to set her life right.
With details that are as fascinating as they are disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy’s desperate attempt at normalcy. Her fear and isolation are palpable as readers are pulled down a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen’s life will have readers completely hooked.
Yes, this is a problem novel, and the problem this time around is hoarding. Sort of an unusual choice to write a YA novel about, but not entirely surprising. Gawking at hoarders is a bit of a cottage industry on certain cable channels, after all. Dirty Little Secrets is entirely from the perspective of the teenage child of a hoarder, and it's set almost entirely in the day that she's discovered her mother dead in their home. And fair warning, some of the descriptions in this book are stomach-churning.
Lucy's decision, to spend a few days cleaning up the house before reporting her mother's death, was at first all but anything but understandable to me. I'm not sure why Omololu decided to start with that shock and then use the rest of the book to try to convince her reader that Lucy isn't an unbelievably awful person. She gave herself quite an uphill battle. It's partway through the tour of the house that I started to understand, even if I never could imagine doing this myself. Maybe it was when Lucy found the hamster cage, or realized that her mother had given no more care and consideration to things that Lucy had made than to random pieces of garbage. There's also plenty of flashbacks that put her relationship with her mother into context. Essentially, there isn't one, which is one of the saddest things about this book.
Lucy's mother was definitely a compulsive hoarder, and she had come to the point that building walls of things around herself had cut her off from her family. Lucy believes that her mother loved her stuff more than she loved her, and because we never see inside her mother's mind, we don't know how true that is. And does it really matter if it isn't? It's what Lucy genuinely believes to be true, and she'll never know otherwise at this point. Lucy's apparent coldness is a defense she's built up over time. After reading this book, I visited the website Omololu mentions at the end of the book, Children of Hoarders, and wasn't surprised at how much Lucy sounded like the people on the site. She did her homework.
On the last few pages, Lucy makes a decision that, if I'd read it at the start of the book, would have seemed insane. But by the end, I was able to understand just how much she felt backed into a corner. Not excuse or defend her actions, exactly, but I could understand. It was hard to read at times, but I'm very glad this book exists. Gawking at hoarders is almost a national pastime, but it's always from the perspective or an outsider. At best, there's some dwelling on the state of mind of the hoarder, but the effects on the others in the house aren't really talked about so much.