Kate O’Donnell’s debut novel, Untidy Towns, sets up an escapist fantasy, and then fills it with the reality of running away from your troubles.
Who hasn’t dreamed of abandoning school and clinging to the safety of home? When Adelaide walks out of her suffocating boarding school, she thinks she’s free to live her life however she chooses. However, she’s quick to find that reality isn’t that easy to hide from, and she isn’t as sure of what she wants as she thought.
Untidy Towns is a coming-of-age story that describes that turbulent time between childhood and adulthood. Adelaide returns home to discover that her hometown wasn’t frozen in time, waiting for her to come home; she’s changed, but so are the people she’s known her whole life. She has to learn to fit back into a world that has moved on without her.
The sense of doubt felt by everyone facing life after high school is prominent in this novel, with the disapproval from Adelaide’s family becoming almost tangible. Addie is in constant limbo between feeling scrutinised by her loved ones, and sticking to her decision. It’s a feeling familiar to anyone whose dreams are different to the expectations of the people around you.
Untidy Towns comments on the unique experience of adolescence. Ambitions change, and sometimes the path laid out isn’t always the right one. Adelaide’s journey is one that forces her to face the consequences of her own actions, but she does find rewards for staying true to herself.
O’Donnell encapsulates the adventure of first love in a way that’s rare for the young adult genre. The romance in this novel is not explosive or poetic – it starts off with two people who like each other, and simply keep finding things to like. It’s an honest reflection of how sometimes, love can be awkward and clumsy, but it’s worth it as long as both parties are willing to work for it.
Following a character who is trapped simultaneously in the past and the future, Untidy Towns is a great read for anyone who’s ever felt unsure of themselves.