Thursday, April 29, 2010
Dirty Little Secrets
Amazon Product Description. 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.
Review. Buried under a mountainous pile of National Geographics lies the body of sixteen year old Lucy’s mom; her death the result of an apparent asthma attack. Dirty Little Secrets, the debut novel by C.J. Omololu, details the next critical twenty four hours of Lucy’s young life.
When Lucy returns home to find her mother’s body she is thrust into a moral crossroads: to call or not call 911? The reason Lucy hesitates is due to her fear of what others will think of her family. As Lucy notes: “Our little gray and white house really didn’t look that bad from [the outside] . . . . All of our secrets started at the front door.” Behind the closed doors, Lucy and her mother live surrounded by toppling piles of newspapers, magazines, thrift shop stuff and other assorted debris. They live in primitive conditions, without heat and hot water, because no repairman can access the furnace which is surrounded by “stuff.”
And now Lucy’s mother’s body cannot be removed from the house because it is engulfed by stuff. It is at this juncture that Lucy makes her decision to delay summoning 911 until she can clean up the house. Lucy explains her choice as follows:
“Mom was dead – there was nothing I could do about that. Local history would either remember us either as that garbage-hoarding freak family on Collier Avenue, or as the nice oncology nurse with the lovely children.”
Hoarding is a form of the obsessive compulsive disorder mental illness. It is generally hidden from public view because of the stigma. Omololu does a fantastic job of conveying the shame and isolation which propel Lucy’s actions. In page after page the reader is confronted with detailed depictions of the house’s sad state and Lucy’s mind frame. For example, when comparing the stigma of hoarding versus alcohol or drug addiction Lucy observes: “Maybe someone could forgive an addiction, but nobody was going to understand how we lived under a mountain of garbage for so long. It was different. It made us too different.”
Dirty Little Secrets is an enthralling story and must read for anyone seeking to understand this often hidden mental illness.
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (February 2, 2010), 224 pages
Review book acquired from a local public librabry.