Lucy Tompkins has a dirty little secret…her mother is a hoarder. For years her mother has been “collecting” items that are too precious to throw out. The result is a house filled to the ceiling with newspapers, clothes and garbage. There is no heat and no running water. Lucy navigates her way around the trash and her mother’s illness, biding her time until she can leave the house like her two older siblings. This is the deep, dark secret she’s been living with her whole life. Lucy has artfully controlled the situation by never letting anyone in her home and choosing her friends carefully. All that falls apart when she returns from a sleepover to find her mother has died under a pile of National Geographic magazines. Panic-stricken she starts to dial 911, but stops. If the authorities come…everyone will know their dirty little secret!
The majority of the novel deals with Lucy’s attempt to clean up her house so she can attend to her mother. At first I didn’t understand why she just wouldn’t call for help. Her mother’s dead, who cares about the house. But then we are given a glimpse into exactly what Lucy has been living with. If you’ve ever seen the TV shows about hoarders, you’ll understand. Lucy’s mother has saved every single scrap for years and years, and it’s all in the house. There’s no where to walk except for winding, claustrophobic paths carved into the debris. The smell is overwhelming. Lucy recalls how family members have tried to help and clean up in the past. This was seen by her mother as a betrayal. Lucy has no choice but to live in the squalor until she graduates.
Her mother’s sudden death has made Lucy take action like never before. The dichotomy between the anger and sadness she feels towards her is perfect. Lucy is finally free of her mother and she’s left with the mess, but the fact is that her mother has died. The guilt she feels for not mourning properly is equaled by her fear and sadness. By the end of this Dirty Little Secrets I came away with a great respect for Lucy and her strength to endure her mother’s illness and try to protect her family. I can not even imagine what it must be like to live and function in this situation. For many people out there, this is a reality. I applaud C.J. Omololu for shedding light on the issue of hoarding and those it affects.