Kate O’Donnell, Untidy Towns, University of Queensland Press, 2 Oct 2017, 312pp., $19.95 (pbk), ISBN: 9780702259821
Year 12 – a high stakes year in most young peoples’ lives. Between the pressures of tests and exams, the relentless focus on what to do ‘next’ and the unpredictable ebb and flow of hormones, emotions, friendships and relationships, being 17 can seem overwhelming and hard to survive. For Adelaide, these pressures, combined with the expectations of her scholarship at a posh private boarding school, become too much, and she accidentally flees one morning, finding herself on a train back to her tiny country hometown, Emyvale.
Despite a history of academic achievement, Addie now doesn’t even know if she wants to complete Year 12. Untidy Towns is a slice of Addie’s life, following her through the months of her final year of schooling, sharing insights into the very real confusion and struggle that many teenagers experience as they move towards a new phase in their lives. Just as in real life, there is no clear resolution to Addie’s story – but through her experiences, friendships and growing maturity, we see her realisation that life is what we make it, and that we all walk alone, together.
In Untidy Towns, Kate O’Donnell’s first novel, she accurately captures the messiness of real life situations with a fresh voice and warm and likeable characters. There are no cliff-hanger plotlines or edge of your seat scenes – instead what keeps you reading is the gentle humour and the everyday ‘realness’ of the prose. Addie’s feelings will resonate with teens in their final years of school, and the themes of resilience, courage, family and friends mean that the text will lend itself to an enjoyable novel study.
Suitable for readers 15 years and up. Teachers’ Notes are available on the UQP website.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone