2011, Walker Books for Young Readers, ISBN 978-0-8027-2233-1
Plot Summary: Dirty Little Secrets examines the effect of hoarding on a child. Lucy has almost given up hope on having a normal life; her mother’s hoarding has gotten out of control, making Lucy afraid to have friends, for fear they’ll want to come to her house. She has been bullied and teased, called “Garbage Girl” and forced to change schools. When she is at home, her mother verbally attacks her, making her feel responsible for the mess. Her older brother and sister are out of the house, leaving Lucy to deal with her mother.
Most of Dirty Little Secrets takes place in an eight-and- one-half-hour period where Lucy, who has dared to make another friend and even cultivate a boyfriend, arrives home to get ready for a concert and a date. She discovers her mother dead, a victim of her hoard, and she panics at having her mother’s shame revealed. She knows it will be on the news, and Lucy will be “garbage girl” all over again. Deciding to hold off on calling the authorities until she can clean the house enough to let the authorities in, she gets to work. She decides to hold off on reporting her mother’s death until she can clean the house enough to let authorities in. As Lucy attempts to clean, memories of her mother’s hoarding and its effect on her life come up, giving the reader an inside view of how her mother’s illness affected Lucy’s entire life.
Critical Evaluation: Dirty Little Secrets is a powerful read that provides insight into the effects of hoarding on those who live with hoarders. Lucy is bullied and teased once her mother’s secret gets out; it becomes so bad that she has to leave her school and start over. Her mother verbally abuses her, blaming her for hiding things and making messes. Her siblings are no help. Ms. Omololu’s writing provokes a strong reader reaction, eliciting sympathy for Lucy and frustration with the obstacles in her way. Using a relatively short time frame during which the novel takes place, the author uses flashbacks to provide a depth to the story. The characters have enough backstory to further the plot, leaving the reader possibly wanting more from this fast-moving story. The ending, while appearing a bit rushed, is in line with Lucy’s rising panic throughout the book.
Reviews: School Library Journal: “Shocking, tragic, desperate, and believable. . . . a valuable new addition to heartbreaking but honest books about teens.”
Kirkus Reviews: “An emotionally charged novel. . .readers will be rapt.”
Publishers Weekly: “A disturbing appraisal of how a mother’s obsessive hoarding affects her teenage daughter in this frank novel.”
Awards: ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers list, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee, ALA Quick Pick nominee, Texas Tayshas Reading List (2011), Florida Teens Read List, Nominee: South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, Texas Lone Star Reading List, Kentucky Bluegrass Award, Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers, Arkansas Teen Book Award, Elliott Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award.
Reader’s Annotation: When you grow up with a hoarder, you learn to bury your own secrets.
Author Information: Author C.J. Omololu’s website offers links to information and reading guides on her books, a link to her blog, and an “After” chapter for anyone who wants to know what happens to Lucy after the climax ofDirty Little Secrets.
Genre: Realistic fiction. Subgenres: dysfunctional families, friendship, mental illness.
Booktalking Ideas: Lucy is ashamed of her mother’s hoarding and lives under the constant stress that her secret will be revealed, ruining her life. Do you agree with the choices she makes throughout the novel? What do you think you would do in a similar situation? How far have you gone to keep a secret?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues/Defense: The issue of Lucy cleaning out the house while her mother lies dead in another room could be a cause for challenge. Defense would be that her fear propels her to irrational behavior to keep this secret before it ruins her. The final solution could also be challenged, and I would defend it with the same rationale, adding that the character of Lucy, as a teenager, is reacting age appropriately and not considering long-term consequences.
Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?
I have been fascinated with hoarding behavior since the show Hoarders has become popular. To see a book written about this, from a teenager’s point of view, made this a must-read.