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Reviewed by Colleen Turner

Whenever I’ve come across one of those TV shows about hoarding I’ve always wondered how the mess could truly get that bad. How do you not know that your house is packed nearly floor to ceiling and that it isn’t a healthy way to live, for you or for any family members living there? How could you stand the clutter, the smell? Keepsake by Kristina Riggle works to answer these questions and more by dropping the reader right into the middle of a hoarder’s life and giving a first-hand look at the inner working of a hoarder and the devastating consequences to those around them.

Trish Dietrich knows she isn’t perfect. She’s a single mom, working full time and doesn’t feel she has the time to keep her house neat and orderly. When the bags and boxes started creeping into Drew, her teenage son’s, room and he decided to move in with his girlfriend’s family she still didn’t think it was that bad. But when her youngest son, Jack, is injured when the clutter in his own room collapses on him, Child Protective Services is called in to investigate and Trish is left with two options: either clean up the mess or lose Jack.

When Drew contacts his Aunt Mary to come and help in the cleanup, she is shocked. Mary hasn’t spoken to Trish since their mother’s funeral fourteen years before. Trish never forgave Mary for moving out as a teenager to escape their mom’s own hoarding and has resented Mary’s extreme neatness, seeing it as looking down on her. Mary herself has spent these many years keeping the outside world at bay, only going to work and back home to her immaculately clean townhouse. But, since recently losing her job and having nothing better to do, what excuse does she really have not to help?

As the cleanup begins Mary soon realizes they need some serious help. Trish seems to justify why she must keep everything and will not let anything be thrown away without her direct approval. Mary calls the only person she can turn to, an old college friend, Seth, who is a psychologist and someone who might not only be an extra pair of hands but could help navigate around the angry, vicious Trish that comes out during the cleaning. They also enlist their father and Trish’s ex-husband, Ron, both men that truly love Trish but cannot justify what she has done to her home and her children.

As the rooms begin to clear so do the reasons behind not only Trish’s and Mary’s actions but their mother’s as well. Through it all they both learn they must let go of the past, whether by opening themselves up to the world and the good and the bad that comes from it or by physically letting go of those concrete reminders of the past and focusing on the world in the present.

Keepsake was definitely an eye-opener for me. What I found to be the most interesting was the contrast between Trish’s hoarding and Mary’s OCD cleaning tendencies. Both women were using these habits to hide from their pasts and shut out their present as well. I actually ended up having the most sympathy for Mary, someone who was so closed off from feeling anything in an attempt to keep from getting hurt that she had forgotten how to react normally to people who cared about her. I also found the fact that Trish and Mary’s mother was a hoarder and that the disorder seemed to pass down to Trish and that even her own son, Jack, was beginning to display those same habits fascinating. The trauma from one generation seemed to trickle down and influence the next, leaving a lot of hurt to be healed to break the cycle.

Trish was a harder character for me to sympathize with. While the reasons that initiated her hoarding were devastating, I hated watching her attack Mary every time she tried to help and bemoaning to herself over and over that she had no one when all the people around her were there to help her. I understand that much of what she said and thought were defense mechanisms but it still got under my skin that she was so unappreciative of what the others were trying to do.

All in all I think Keepsake was a very good read. It gave me a better look into the why’s behind hoarding and a new family dynamic I have never read about before. This is the second book by Kristina Riggle I have read and I am eager to see what she writes next.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Also by Kristina Riggle: Things We Didn’t Say

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.