C.J. Omololu Dirty Little Secrets
210 pp. Walker Publishing Company (Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.) 2010 ISBN: 978-0-8027-2233-1
Summary (From the author’s website): Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.
For sixteen years, Lucy has kept her mother’s hoarding a secret. She’s had to—nobody would understand the stacks of newspapers and mounds of garbage so high they touch the ceiling and the rotting smell that she’s always worried would follow her out the house. After years of keeping people at a distance, she finally has a best friend and maybe even a boyfriend if she can play it right. As long as she can make them think she’s normal.
When Lucy arrives home from a sleepover to find her mother dead under a stack of National Geographics, she starts to dial 911 in a panic, but pauses before she can connect. She barely notices the filth and trash anymore, but she knows the paramedics will. First the fire trucks, and then news cameras that will surely follow. No longer will they be remembered as the nice oncology nurse with the lovely children—they’ll turn into that garbage-hoarding freak family on Collier Avenue.
With a normal life finally within reach, Lucy has only minutes to make a critical decision. How far will she go to keep the family secrets safe?
This is C.J. Omololu’s incredibly impressive 2010 debut novel. I’ve read some good reviews for Dirty Little Secrets, but I didn’t pick it up until my alumni book club decided to read it. I’m so thankful we chose this book! C.J. is a very talented writer, especially in her ability to create strong images and to invoke emotion in the reader.
Thankfully I didn’t grow up with a parent that hoards, but I was still able to connect with Lucy. It’s impressive when an author can develop a character so well that even those who haven’t been in their situation can still relate. Lucy is basically living two lives–one at school and with friends where she attempts to be “normal” and the other at home where she tries not to upset her mother. The struggles she faces are nerve-wracking and heart breaking. How can you possibly decide what to do when you find your mother dead?! How can you keep your friends away from your house and family? I couldn’t put this down because Lucy completely had me hooked to her story.
The descriptions and images are unbelievable (as in, amazing!). Even if I had never watched an episode of “Hoarders”, I’d be able to picture Lucy’s house perfectly. There was a scene involving maggots and I had the exact same reaction as Lucy, that’s how effective C.J.’s writing is. I could see the massive piles of newspapers and magazines. I could picture the gifts with tags remaining. I saw Lucy’s mother’s chair and their unusable kitchen. These images helped me relate with how desperate and isolated Lucy is feeling. I just wanted to reach out and hug her and help her.
This is an important book to read and include in a library/classroom library. More people than we realize are hoarders or living in a home with hoarders. Lucy shouldn’t have to feel ashamed and alone; she should know that there are people who would help and support her. Dirty Little Secrets should be read so those who are dealing with hoarding gain this understanding. Dirty Little Secrets should be read so we can empathize with those who hoard instead of criticizing them.