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Review: Dirty Secret

January 4, 2011

Jessie Sholl always knew her mother was “different” from everyone else’s.  She wasn’t affectionate and just didn’t seem to care about the same things other mothers did.   When Jessie was seven, her parents divorced and her mother’s “differences” really seemed to blossom.  Jessie’s parents lived close to each other, and, initially, Jessie, and her brother, would spend the week at their mother’s and the weekends at their father’s.  Things were pretty normal at her father’s, but there were few rules at her mother’s and Jessie and her brother ran wild while they were there.  It didn’t take the kids long to realize that they craved the discipline at their father’s home, so they moved in with him full-time, only visiting their mother occasionally.  When her mother’s behavior continued to deteriorate and her mental illness manifested itself into hoarding, Jessie became embarrassed by her mother and her mother’s home.

Through the years, Jessie and her mother have had a tenuous relationship at best.  When Jessie’s mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, she decided that she should put her home in Jessie’s name to prevent losing it.  Jessie didn’t want her mother’s home, but felt that she had to go out to help her mother, and eventually her father as well.  After many failed attempts at changing her mother, Jessie finally realized she must accept her as she is and change herself instead.

Dirty Secret is a memoir by Jessie Sholl and it’s a fascinating peek into what it’s like to be the child of a compulsive hoarder.   Before reading this book, I knew very little about hoarding – I thought I’d been in the home of a hoarder, but it was nothing like what Sholl describes, or like the home I saw on Hoarders after reading this book.   It seems that hoarding is a form of mental illness and Jessie’s mother’s has roots in abuse she suffered as a child.  It affects the mental and physical health of the hoarder and those who love them.  I found Sholl’s story to be compelling and her writing to be solid, but I didn’t connect with her as much as I had hoped to, and I’m not sure why.  I ended up liking Dirty Secret a lot, but I didn’t quite love it.  I think those who enjoy memoirs or who are interested in reading about growing up with a mentally ill parent will enjoy this book.

Review copy provided by the author.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
49 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2011 5:08 am

    Sorry to hear you didn’t love it – but it definitely still sounds worth reading. I know very little about hoarding myself.

  2. January 4, 2011 6:00 am

    Have you seen any of the Oprah-like shows (even O herself did one I believe) on hoarders? It is absolutely unbelievable to see. I can’t imaging living in the way some do.

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book despite it being about a unique and potentially thought provoking topic.

  3. January 4, 2011 6:57 am

    I have this one as well, but after reading Stuffed, another book about hoarding, I was not quite ready for this one….yet. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. January 4, 2011 7:03 am

    Wow! What an amazing story! I am fascinated by hoarding and am interested in learning some of the reasons behind the mental illness. The author really sounds like she had major issues to deal with when it came to her mother. Must have been a powerful read!

  5. Kaye permalink
    January 4, 2011 7:43 am

    Not too sure this book is one for me and I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more. It sure is an fascinating topic though. The Hoarders show is unbelievable to me and I can’t imagine living like that. It’s amazing that it’s even recognized as a disease.

  6. January 4, 2011 7:45 am

    I am fascinated with hoarders, if only to make myself feel better about the little piles in my closet. My BFF has a hoarder living next door, and I’ve seen it. It IS a sickness. You should read Homer & Langely, about two brothers and famous hoarders in NYC.

  7. January 4, 2011 8:01 am

    I, too, am fascinated by this subject – although I think I have to be a right frame of mind to read a book such as this. Thanks so much for the honest, informative review!

  8. January 4, 2011 8:49 am

    I’ve heard that excessive hoarding is an illness too, I guess a compulsive disorder. Interesting subject!

  9. January 4, 2011 9:10 am

    This book sounds fascinating to me for some reason, and I really want to add it to my list now! Hoarding is such an interesting disorder, and though I have never watched any of the shows, and don’t know much about it, I’d really like to read this memoir and find out more. Thanks for the great review, Kathy!

  10. January 4, 2011 9:22 am

    A story revolving around hoarding is an interesting premise..Will watch out for this book.

  11. January 4, 2011 9:35 am

    You know how I felt about this one. 🙂 Fascinating book, in my opinion. And Jessie Sholl is so courageous to have written it, I think!

  12. January 4, 2011 9:57 am

    This sounds just fascinating. Hoarding is such a sad and interesting illness. I think I’ll have to look for this memoir.

  13. January 4, 2011 10:14 am

    One thing that never occurred to me when watching the Hoarders shows is the effect such behavior might have on young children. While I’m not sure I would want to read this at the moment, it definitely sounds like it would offer an unique perspective on the disease. Thanks for the review Kathy 🙂

  14. January 4, 2011 10:14 am

    Sounds really interesting. I’ve been really getting into memoirs lately so maybe this is something I should pick up.

  15. January 4, 2011 10:32 am

    Hoarding is such a unique mental illness. I’m working on my psychology degree and haven’t really studied this in-depth yet but I’m looking forward to learning more. The show astounds me – I can only imagine how this book would leave me feeling! great review!

  16. January 4, 2011 12:02 pm

    Hoarding is scary to me. I know so a couple people who keep things, who can’t go into certain rooms in their home because there’s just not room. I have to wonder how far that step to becoming a “hoarder” is.

  17. January 4, 2011 12:12 pm

    Great review Kathy, I am very interested. I enjoy most books about mental illnesses. I had no idea Hoarding could be one also. Adding to the Wishlist.

  18. January 4, 2011 12:59 pm

    I wonder if as book hoarders we may have a problem?LOL.
    This sounds like a powerful story, you just don’t realise how easy you have it until you read a book like this.

  19. January 4, 2011 1:33 pm

    I’m not sure how many books you read for the challenge, but there are 3 giveaways up for participants of the Vietnam War Reading Challenge. I hope you’ll enter and spread the word.

  20. Beth Hoffman permalink
    January 4, 2011 2:00 pm

    For some reason I’m both fascinated and utterly repulsed by hoarding…lol! I suspect I’ll have to read this. You’re reviews are always exceptionally balanced, even when you don’t quite “love” a book.

  21. January 4, 2011 2:06 pm

    My husband would pass out at the thought of this book because hoarding scares him so. I am not a hoarder, but I do stash a few extra things in the closet…in any case, it would be interesting to read about this. I saw a news program about it once and ended up feeling pretty sorry for the people plagued with this problem. Great review, as always, Kathy!

  22. January 4, 2011 2:10 pm

    I am very fascinated by hoarders. I watch the tv show and feel so sorry for them and their family. I’ll have to add this one to my must read list.
    Natalie :0)

  23. January 4, 2011 2:34 pm

    I recently came across this OCD/hoarding illness on TV and have to say it is quite amazing to see the person’s justifications as to their disease. I am glad that shows and books have brought this mental illness out in the open so that it is beter understood and that for someone suffering from it, that there is help. Mental illness already has an awful stigma attached to it, but hopefully with education, that will be erased in time.

  24. January 4, 2011 2:35 pm

    Great review, Kathy! I really know so little about the psychology of hoarders, even though they seem to be featured on TV reality programs from time to time.

  25. January 4, 2011 4:01 pm

    I would probably read this one as I’m really interested in why people hoard and how they don’t see what kind of environment they’ve created for themselves and for their family!

  26. January 4, 2011 4:14 pm

    Hoarding is most definitely an illness. These items mean something to these people and if you dig deep enough there is usually a reason for them doing what they do. I can’t understand how they just get rid of stuff on the show. You would have to treat the person first before they could even comfortably get to that point.

    It would be so hard to live with a hoarder. The health issues that arise, the financial burden and of course having to hide that fact that your family is like this.

  27. January 4, 2011 4:25 pm

    It does seem that she goes really deep, cos yes always when I have seen hoarders on Oprah there seems to be things buried within them too

  28. January 4, 2011 4:55 pm

    I only know about hoarding because of the A&E show – I do want to read this book, but bummer that you didn’t connect with the main character. Memoirs are tough sometimes to really “fit” with. I’ll keep my eye out for this book as well, though, and will keep you posted once I read it!

  29. January 4, 2011 6:27 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting read. I haven’t read any books that deal with hoarding so I’ll stay on the lookout for it.

  30. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 4, 2011 6:30 pm

    It seems like hoarding is everywhere these days. I’ve never seen the show but have heard the nightmare stories. Jason thinks I hoard boxes. Never know when yuou might need one or what size so I keep them all 🙂

  31. January 4, 2011 6:44 pm

    After watching hoarding shows on TLC, I’d be really interested in reading this novel – great review 🙂

  32. January 4, 2011 9:47 pm

    I don’t usually like memoirs, but this one interests me. I have watched “Hoarders” and just don’t understand why they do what they do. You’ve piqued my interest in this one!

  33. January 4, 2011 10:30 pm

    I had not heard of this book before and I don’t think I have ever read anything like it. I would read this as the whole hoarding illness is a new topic for me.

  34. January 4, 2011 11:05 pm

    I feel bad for children and the parents who have to suffer through situations like this. Outsiders can be so cruel too adding to the situation. Sounds like an interesting read, but I’ll pass. Too sad for me. Great review.

  35. January 4, 2011 11:56 pm

    this certainly sounds intriguing. I used to love reading these type of memoirs, but this one isn’t exactly calling to me at the moment.

  36. Veens permalink
    January 5, 2011 6:27 am

    I have not heard about hoarding. This is a very new to me subject. I most definitely want to check this one out.

  37. January 5, 2011 9:56 am

    I’m not a huge fan of memoirs but I have heard good things about this one. Thanks for highlighting it’s pros and cons.

  38. January 5, 2011 11:41 am

    I’m reviewing this one soon, and I’m curious to see what I’ll think of it. My great-aunt was a hoarder (stuff stacked to the ceiling with a path carved through). She was also mentally ill, so I only got to meet her once when I was growing up. When she passed away and they cleared out her stuff they found two books she had purchased and inscribed to me – favorites from her childhood. I treasure them because even though I didn’t know her well, she obviously knew and remembered that I liked books. (The books she got me were Anne of Green Gables and Girl of the Limberlost – and she was right, I loved them.)

  39. January 5, 2011 1:24 pm

    This book sounds quite interesting. I imagine being the child of a hoarder causes a lot of pent up emotions: anger, humiliation, confusion etc. Before you mentioned it, though, I got the impression that the author wasn’t the easiest person to connect with in her writing so I completely understood when you said this. But her memoir still has me interested and I think I’ll put it on my ever-burgeoning TBR list!

    Thank you for another wonderful review!
    ~ Amy

  40. January 5, 2011 7:15 pm

    i’m a huge fan of memoirs and would definitely give this book a read even though you didn’t quite love it. i’ve seen an episode of hoarders while visiting my sister and have to say that i felt the people were exploited and didn’t get the help they needed to deal with their compulsions. i don’t think a weekend clean out and few hours of ‘therapy’ will undo a lifetime of compulsive behaviors. thanks for this review, kathy. i’m adding it to my Memoirs to be Read in 2011 list! 🙂

  41. January 5, 2011 8:19 pm

    I do enjoy reading memoirs, and I think this one sounds interesting. I’ll keep my eye open for this one. Great review! I hate when I don’t connect with the characters, but it happens…

  42. January 6, 2011 12:00 am

    I put this on my TBR just a few weeks ago because it looks so interesting. It’s too bad you didn’t love it, but sounds good anyway.

  43. January 6, 2011 7:24 am

    Gulp — ummmm when does it turn from “collecting” to “hoarding” LOL — maybe people shouldn’t visit my house. Seriously, though, this does sound like a fascinating read.

  44. January 6, 2011 11:52 am

    This book sounds fascinating Kathy. I’m always interested in stories like this.

  45. January 6, 2011 6:58 pm

    Great review and deep down it made me think how every little thing is related to our lives. The hoarding and mental illness were systematic to a greater issue of what her mother went through. Going to look this on up next time I go to Indigo.

  46. January 6, 2011 9:22 pm

    I love memoirs!.. and it is so intriguing to peek into the life of a hoarder.

  47. January 7, 2011 1:30 pm

    Sounds like this might be a difficult and upsetting read.

  48. January 7, 2011 2:27 pm

    The whole hoarding thing fascinates me. It seems that the problem is increasing in recent times. I was thinking it is because people who have hoarding tendencies have the access to a lot more stuff than they would have 100 years ago. In any case this book sounds fascinating and I would be interested to read it.

  49. Sarah permalink
    February 8, 2011 3:15 pm

    I could take a guess at why you didn’t connect with the
    author: She was not too likeable. Half the book was one long
    complaint about her mother who has a mental illness, i.e. she can’t
    help her behavior. Besides that, it didn’t lead anywhere. She gave
    herself permission to not clean her mother’s house ever again, but
    I didn’t buy into that being such a big decision for her. For at
    least a hundred pages, all she did was criticize her mother and
    continually ask her questions about why she did what she did when
    Sholl was little. Her mother answered those questions honestly and
    Sholl still found fault with her. I have to agree with you here;
    fascinating topic, but I wish Sholl would have been genuine and

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