Seventeen-year-old Adelaide is sick of being expected to succeed on other people’s terms. She knows she just has to stick it out at school for one more year and then she’ll be free. Instead, she runs away from her fancy boarding school back to her sleepy hometown to read and dream.
But there are no free rides. When Addie’s grandad gets her a job at the local historical society, she soon finds out that it’s dusty and dull, just like her new life. Things change when she starts hanging out with Jarrod, a boy who seems full of possibilities. But it turns out he’s as stuck as she is. And Addie realises that when you want something in life, you’ve actually got to do something about it.
A heartfelt tale about love, friendship and finding your own way.
Sweet and hopeful, Untidy Towns is an unassuming little novel which snuck onto my shelves and into my heart. It arrived in the cutest little package from the publisher, but I knew nothing about it and hadn’t seen it anywhere so I put it aside. I was snowed under with university, then overseas, and moving house as soon as I was back in the country. It wasn’t until speaking to Margot McGovern for Better Words that I decided to pick it up after her raving review. I wish I’d opened this gorgeous little package earlier because Untidy Towns was a book I wholly underestimated.
Adelaide is in Year 12 at a boarding school in Melbourne, having been granted a scholarship for academic achievements. But one day she decides it’s not for her. She catches the train home to her tiny Victorian home town, to the safety and comfort of her family. Now she has to work out what comes next and what he future will hold. Not that anyone can predict that.
Much like Pip Harry’s Head of the River, Untidy Towns is a book I needed to read as a teenager. I put myself under immense pressure to achieve highly. I still do, truth be told. But the effort I put into scoring high marks for my Masters doesn’t come with the same stress as it did in high school. Now I know my life, my future isn’t dependant on earning an A+ in English. I finished Untidy Towns just as OP results were being released in Queensland. The more years I watched the results released as part of my role as a reporter, I think less and less of this system. That’s not to say formal exams and scores don’t have their place, of course people hoping to be doctors or vets or even teachers should meet high standards. But for most students, this mark is irrelevant after a year and there are so many more pathways to a career than getting straight into the course you want. In fact, sometimes this can prove the better course.
It seems ridiculous to me that teenagers are expected to know what they want to do for at least their immediate future before they even get into the big wide world. I count myself lucky that the out-of-the-blue decision I made to study journalism (literally about half way through Year 12) proved something which suited me so well. Anyway, I really enjoyed the exploration of this through Adelaide. I also loved her mum and the way she encouraged her to finish school, but picked her up in other times without judgement.
Untidy Towns is a steady, meandering novel and that pace won’t be for everyone. But it was the sort of contemporary I love; focused on characters and little moments in life which leave a big impression. Then again, I’ve never been one for punch-in-the-guts novels full of more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Emyvale was a gorgeous setting, which really came to life in my mind. Just like a hundred other towns I’ve driven through or visited on holidays around the country, this small town seems quintessentially Australian. Our equivalent of the quaint English village. It’s such a pleasure to see more #LoveOzYA focused on rural and regional areas, which can easily be forgotten in favour of the much cooler city streets of Melbourne or Sydney.
Adelaide was unsure and making mistakes, but she soon finds out that is what life is all about. Finishing this, I’m sure I’ll be reading anything written by O’Donnell from now on. Gorgeously written, heartfelt and sweet, Untidy Towns was a beautiful slice of Australian life.
Sounds like: Don’t Be Shy || Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens
Thank you to the lovely folks at University of Queensland Press for providing a copy for review.