I ran away on a Tuesday afternoon in late March. Six pm and I was headed south-west in a train that smelled stale. I had put two hours and however many kilometres behind me. Walking the length of the carriage and back again to stretch my legs, I lurched and pitched with and against the movements of the train. I’d done it now. Right decision. Wrong decision. My decision.
Set in the fictional country town of Emyvale, Untidy Towns is a contemporary novel narrated by Adelaide, a seventeen year old who is sick of living her life on other people’s terms. Adelaide drops out of the prestigious school she had been attending under a scholarship and heads back to her family in Emyvale to regroup, to breathe, and to try to figure out what she wants from her own life. Her mother sends Addie to work for her grandad at the Emyvale Historical Society. Addie starts hanging out with Jarrod, and realises he is just as stuck as she is. Addie realises she has to play an active role in her own life in order to find purpose and happiness.
Untidy Towns is a beautifully written novel about family, friendships and forging your own path to happiness. Unsure of where her future lies, Addie finds herself taking stock of her own life. Leaving her prestigious school and returning to the town in which she grew up provides Addie with the opportunity to look at her town, family and friends through fresh eyes. The novel is character-driven, and is therefore reliant on believable and intriguing characters to move the story forward. There is no one single antagonist standing in Adelaide’s way, just as there is no champion waiting to rescue her. Kate O’Donnell has created a collection of endearing and multifaceted characters who propel Addie to take charge of her own life, including her supportive mother who offers a balance of reassurance and authority without ever seeming too controlling, and Adelaide’s extroverted private school friend Mia, whose social confidence compliments Addie’s introverted tendencies but also arguably holds Addie back from becoming an active participant in her own life.
The pacing of Untidy Towns beautifully compliments the major theme of the book of slowing down and taking stock. The novel doesn’t seek to provide answers, but reads as more of an acknowledgement of the intense amount of stress that teens endure during their final year of schooling and the accompanying weight of expectation of a future they are expected to have perfectly mapped out. If this book was fast-paced and filled with plot twists, then it would be contradicting its own message of slowing down and finding happiness in the here and now. The pacing and the structure beautifully aligns with its message – something I only fully appreciated once I finished reading it.