Fifteen-year-old Junie is barely coping. Her mother has started sleeping in the chair in front of the TV, and the house is so packed with junk, newspapers, cupboard organizers and other helpful items from the Shopping Channel that she can barely get in the front door. Her father is no help, since he’s always with That Woman. To top it off, she’s failing math.
So when Wade Jaffre, the hot new guy at school, offers her a ride home from school, it seems too good to be true. Junie surprises herself by accepting—and even talking! But as they approach her house, her parents are outside, screaming at each other. Junie doesn’t have to think twice about directing him on to her best friend Tabitha’s house, nor about continuing the charade of pretending she lives there.
Tabitha and her mother are understanding—and willing to go along, for the moment. But as the weeks go by, Junie’s lies start piling up and the opportunity to tell the truth seems to slip away. Until the day Junie’s world—and her mother’s—is literally turned inside out for the world to see, and Junie and her mother must face the consequences of her mother’s illness … and the lies they both told to hide it.
Tell Me More: When you’re a teen, the smallest fall can seem like a disaster of epic proportions. You try your best to build an impenetrable wall, stay dignified and cool, but underneath that facade, most teens often have very real problems. It’s nothing new to those of us who have passed adolescence. But what happens when one of those very real problems includes your own survival? Carrie Mac’s The Opposite of Tidy is a stark look at the way two lives can fall apart, and the work required to bring the pieces back together again.
Initially, I had a difficult time getting into Junie’s story. The prose isn’t especially exciting, and the pacing was unusually slow for a contemporary novel. It added to the distance I felt between myself and Junie, which wasn’t an ideal position to be in. I wanted to like the story, however, and I grew fond of Junie by the halfway point of the novel. The parallels to Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key were quite obvious to me, since both Junie and Ruby are dealing with mothers who–for all intents and purposes–are not present in their daughters’ lives. Their individual struggles were still very much tied to the lack of maternal support, and both of them make some reckless decisions having been influenced by that.
Beyond the mother-daughter relationships, one of the main themes in The Opposite of Tidy is control. Junie’s mother exhibits a lack of control in her hoarding, which is later determined to be a sign of mental illness. Junie herself feels like her life has spun out of control, and her actions reflect her desire to regain her footing in a shifting world. As intriguing as it is to see young protagonists dealing with supernatural powers and creatures, I find stories like Junie’s display more courage, because it illustrates just how hard it is to live a normal life. There isn’t anything or anyone who can save Junie and her mother–they have to pull each other out by themselves. And why should Junie help her mother at all, when she’s destroying both of their lives? Questions like these add to the thematic complexity of this story, and make it an intense experience for the reader. It is a story worth reading, however, and one worth sharing with readers that struggle with that same loss of balance in their lives.
The Final Say: The Opposite of Tidy is more than a flickering glance at the true nature of mental illness–it is a sobering take on the challenges of loving someone who comes close to being unloveable, and finding the strength to battle onwards.