Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 1/11

I have a huge backlog of books that need to be reviewed, but I keep holding off because it seems like if I blogged them all now I'd have two week's worth of posts about books that I essentially didn't like. Or I liked a ton of the book...but then there was one GLARING THING that makes me unable to actually recommend a book. I certainly don't think I have to give positive reviews all the time, but I also don't want to be a total downer.

So I'm very happy to report that I loved Dirty Little Secrets, was totally unable to put it down, and finished it in just a couple of hours. Seriously, I started it on the train ride home today (at five) and finished by nine - and that includes breaks taken for dinner, websurfing, and talking to my husband.

Lucy's family has a secret. A giant, hulking, dirty secret. Her mom is a compulsive hoarder and has filled the house with piles of newspapers, old clothes, and just plain garbage. Lucy has lived like this for most of her life, and is now 16 and practically counting the days until she can escape from her mother's grip, like her two older siblings have already done.

After spending the night at her best friend's house (Lucy can never allow friends to visit her garbage-filled house), Lucy returns to find her mother dead in the hallway, her inhaler just out of reach and a six-foot pile of National Geographic magazines collapsed on top of her. Lucy spends the next 24 hours desperately trying to make the house presentable before calling for help; she can't stand the thought of her family becoming a freak show on TV with headlines like "Woman Dies Surrounded by Squalor." As she unearths forgotten shopping sprees and school projects she gives us glimpses into life with her slowly deteriorating mother and the heavy toll growing up with a hoarder has taken on Lucy's relationships with peers and her siblings. Lucy's refuge inside the house is increasingly invaded by suddenly nosy neighbors, her annoying older sister, and best friends who are dead set on setting her up with the cutest boy in school. The tension mounts hour by hour as cleaning years of debris seems increasingly hopeless, and Lucy feels her options for protecting her mother's secret are running out.

This book led to some very visceral reactions from me. I'm really glad I'd finished dinner before Lucy found the maggots in the living room (omg, is there anything more disgusting in the world than maggots? Even the word makes me shiver). And it's been awhile since a book made me say "Holy shit" aloud when I reached the climax. Lucy's story is complicated; as she struggles with how to make the house somewhat presentable, you have to ask just what is her motivation? Is she trying to protect her mother? Her family? Or just her reputation at school? Is she more concerned with whether Josh will like her after he knows of her home life than she was with her mother's well being? How justified are Lucy's feelings about her mother, considering the years of verbal and psychological abuse her mother subjected her to? And what made her mother treat her like crap - was it something to do with the illness that caused the hoarding, or would she have been abusive towards Lucy no matter what?

This is a compelling story, but by no means an easy one. Lucy has a lot of struggles, some serious and others frivolous. At first I was totally annoyed by the more frivolous distractions presented by Lucy's best friend and the cute boy, but this is a well crafted novel and eventually their inclusion serves an important point for Lucy's development. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a heavy family drama, even though most of the family is actually absent while the book is taking place.
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