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Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding Paperback – December 28, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439192529
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439192528
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #546,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, Sholl was faced with a dread worse than the disease, that of taking on responsibility for her mother’s house, filthy and chaotic from years of hoarding. Sholl had grown up in the house in Minneapolis until her parents’ divorce, when she eventually went to live with her father and stepmother not far from the house that so shamed her. She’d spent her adolescence embarrassed by her mother’s mental illness: the hoarding, compulsive shopping, indecisiveness, and occasional cruelty and abuse. Now married and living in New York, she could not rid herself of the obligation and shame or the alternating emotions of fury and protectiveness. Forced to deal with her mother, Sholl waded through garbage (unopened mail, broken appliances, moldy food, and scores of identical items bought on shopping sprees), memories, and research to find a deeper understanding of her mother’s mental disorder. She offers a compelling and compassionate perspective on an illness suffered by an estimated six million Americans that has only recently been explored through reality television programs. --Vanessa Bush

Review

"Sholl explores the psychological reasons why being merely a pack rat can erupt into full-blown hoarding. By the end you're sympathetic to both mother and daughter and understand how a parent's obsession can become a child's."
-- People magazine, 3.5 stars (out of 4)

"With her bold prose and ceaseless courage, Jessie Sholl tells a mother-daughter story like no other. Get ready for a visceral read: just a few pages in to DIRTY SECRET, you'll be scratching your ankles, dabbling your eyes, and -- when you're finished -- frantically cleaning your house."
- Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of "Around the Bloc" and "Mexican Enough"

"Mining a story of damage inflicted and damage sustained, Jessie Sholl conjures a narrative of surprising interconnectedness, even uplift. Wry and illuminating, Dirty Secret is an empathic and insightful memoir."
--Dave King, author of THE HA-HA

"When a grown child tells the story of a troubled parent, three things are needed: exacting detail, unflinching honesty, and - most of all - unconditional love. Jessie Sholl's "Dirty Secret" beautifully contains them all."
- Dan Koeppel, author of "To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son, and A Lifelong Obsession"

"Suspenseful and novel-like, Dirty Secret is a wonderful, respectful introduction to the world of a hoarder and the tribulations suffered by both the individual who hoards and their family members."
-- Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D. author of Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding: Why You Save and How You Can Stop

"From a literal mess of a childhood, Sholl has emerged to tell a compelling and sparkling-clean story that will captivate anyone who has ever tried to let go of the past."
-Elisabeth Eaves, author of "Bare" and Wanderlust"

"Sholl coaxes tragicomic elements from the depressing proceedings—as when everyone contracted a seemingly incurable case of scabies, courtesy of her mother’s hellhole, or the time she discovered the cremated remains of her mother’s longtime boyfriend buried under a pile of yarn, two lava lamps and a stack of old newspapers. Most poignant, though, is the secret shame and embarrassment of her mother’s strangeness that Sholl lugged around for so many years. Eventually, she found sympathy and understanding... Affecting and illuminating."
- Kirkus Reviews

"[Sholl] offers a compelling and compassionate perspective on an illness suffered by an estimated six million Americans that has only recently been explored through reality television programs."
- Booklist

More About the Author

I'm the author of Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, Dec. 2010). I'm also the coeditor of the literary nonfiction anthology Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic. I live in New York City with my super-powered miniature pinscher/Chihuahua mix, Abraham Lincoln. Please feel free to visit me at www.jessie-sholl.com.

Customer Reviews

I truly had trouble putting this book down until I had read to the last page.
Suz
Jessie Sholl is a true heroine of an author, who tells a painful story with such courage, compassion, raw honesty, and stellar writing--I could not put this book down.
Susan Van Allen
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who has a family member who suffers from compulsive hoarding syndrome and/or Diogenes syndrome.
Ms. Billygoatgruff

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Far And Away on December 31, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I feel like everyone knows someone who has a problem with hoarding but it's hard not to look at hoarders and think, 'wtf, just clean it up!'

Jessie Sholl bravely throws herself (and her family) into her haunting and amusing memoir. The best thing about this book is that it's 100% readable, a page-turner really, and it's also extremely informative about hoarding and having someone with a mental disorder entwined in your life. Sholl combines her own stories with researched facts about hoarders that fit snugly in the story. She delves into the complex cycle of hope, frustration and defeat intermixed with humor and honesty will ring true to anyone who has loved a person with a mental illness. If you've dealt (or are dealing) with mental illness/hoarding you'll read this book and think, 'I'm not alone, this is my story too.' If you haven't had a personal experience with a hoarder this will give you insight into the behavior and open your eyes to a new world.

There are many facets of the book beyond the hoarding - daughter-as-mother relationship, parents growing older, etc. Sholl explores these areas in a subtle, genuine way. Bravo!
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Janice Erlbaum on January 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
My mother is a schizophrenic hoarder. This sentence is hard to type, but reading Jessie Sholl's candid and caring memoir about her somewhat similarly affected mother has made it a lot easier, because I'm reminded that I'm not alone, and that in the absurdity and sadness of the situation there is still room for compassion. Jessie describes the emotional landscape around her mother with clarity and precision; I found myself nodding along at thing I recognized from my own life. With this book Jessie has found a way to help dispel the shame and secrecy around this painful condition, not just for herself but for others. A very inspiring memoir from a very good person.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Caroline Leavitt on December 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is no ordinary mother-daughter tale. Sholl's brilliant writing hooks you in the first sentence, and doesn't let up even after the last page (How could I ever stop thinking about this book?) A true tale of her mentally-ill mother's compulsive hoarding, the book is fierce, funny, deeply compassionate, and impossible to put down. I cannot wait for her next book, but right now I'm still compulsively thinking about this one.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jessie Sholl's new memoir is the story of how a child grows up with a mother who's in the grip of a mental illness. Whether bi-polar, depression, Asperger's, or any of a myriad of diagnoses that could be attached to her mother, Jessie went through most of her life ashamed of her mother. The mother, Helen, was a "hoarder" and acted inappropriately much of the time. Jessie never knew how her mother would behave in any situation; I can't think of anything much more difficult for a child than never being able to count on a parent for help, never knowing how the parent would react, etc. And "through the generations" is the unfortunate fact that much of Jessie's mother's illness is attributable to the mental illness in her own immigrant family.

"Dirty Secret" is as much the story of how Jessie, as a young adult, was able to let the "dirty secret" of her mother's behavior be known, as much as it was revealing the "dirty secret" of her mother's home in Minneapolis. We all have "secrets" we feel we must conceal from others. The problems we try to hide from others are often heavier than they should be and when we acknowledge/talk about/reveal them, the result is most often a feeling of complete liberation.

Jessie Sholl is a good writer and her story is replete with those curious "details" about others' lives that are most interesting. She waited to write her memoir until she seemed fairly comfortable with the facts of her mother's illness and the effect on the lives of those around her.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. Lozar on March 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
My mother was a hoarder, so the subject of this book was inherently interesting to me, and I read it as soon as I could get hold of it. I found myself saying "YES!!" time and again because so much of the mother's behavior was familiar: valuation of "stuff" above everything else (including her family), resistance to getting rid of anything, denial that there's a problem, tendency to blame someone or something else for the clutter, inability to organize, insistence on the unique value of every item, etc.

The author points out that not all hoarders are alike: e.g., her mother was a compulsive spender, while mine was a compulsive saver. But, while severe hoarding is often triggered by a trauma, the behavior can be remarkably similar despite different circumstances: my mother was a child of the Depression, while the author's mother grew up in the sixties, but they still had kitchens full of out-of-date products they couldn't bear to throw away. Other authors have described the syndrome in more clinical terms, but this book gives the sense of what it's like to LIVE with a hoarding parent.

What I found most compelling about the book, however, is how well the author described the children-of-hoarders mind-set: She felt responsible for taking care of her mother, and obligated to keep trying to put her mother's house and finances in order, even when it was clear to everyone around her that her efforts were futile. It's almost impossible to convey how life-consuming this sense of responsibility for one's parent can be; but, based on my own experience, I feel that the author totally nailed it.
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