________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIIII Number 2. . . .September 14, 2012


The Opposite of Tidy.

Carrie Mac.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin Group (Canada), 2012.
332 pp., trade pbk., $16.00.
ISBN 978-0-14-318091-3.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Charlotte Duggan.

***½ /4



Junie lifted her fists. She brought then to her face and pressed them hard against her mouth. Part of her wanted to sock her mother between the eyes. Punch her to attention. Knock her out of this mess and into the realm of common sense. And the other part of her just wanted to run away. She let the latter take over and backed away toward the door.

“Where’re you going, honey” her mother asked, eyes ever fixed on the screen. The Kendra Show cut to commercial, so she flipped to the Shopping Channel. A tiny loud model was promising that the scarf flecked with real gold would slim down any woman when worn just so around the neck. One of those would show up within the week, Junie was sure. At least one.


The Opposite of Tidy opens with a stomach-turning description of 15-year-old Juniper Rawley’s home where piles of takeout food boxes vie for space with unopened home-shopping-channel purchases, dirty laundry and old newspapers. Flies buzz above days old pizza, and during the rare moments when the TV is off, rats can be heard scratching through the garbage. The stench and chaos of Juniper’s home form the backdrop to this original and highly engaging story by Vancouver-based writer Carrie Mac.

     Junie’s mother has a hoarding addiction. Her obsession with buying things she doesn’t need, sometimes three at a time, led Junie’s father to hire a life coach. But when he leaves his wife for the life coach, she spirals into a debilitating depression. Junie’s mother now spends her days in front of the television feeding her addiction with home shopping channel purchases, bathing only occasionally, and eating only takeout food. Because Junie fears that she will be forced to live with her father and the life coach if she seeks help for her mother, Junie hides the ugly truth and attempts to cope on her own.

     But Junie is not entirely alone; she has the love and loyalty of her best friend, Tabitha. The two girls share everything, including a crush on the new boy at school, handsome and charming Wade Jaffre. Readers are treated to a spot-on portrayal of the true nature of adolescent female friendship in this novel. Instead of the all too familiar mean-girls trope, these best friends celebrate happily together when Wade asks Junie out.

     Wade’s attraction to Junie sets up an enormous complication. Her home life is horrible and embarrassing. Wade will be disgusted and grossed out, and Junie would be humiliated if he knew the truth. In a panic, Junie does what any 15-year-old would do; she lies. The tension created by Junie’s maintaining this lie presents a deliciously sharp contrast to the sweetness of the experience of first love. Junie’s life bounces between disasters like a sewage spill in her basement and romantic dates with Wade. As Junie and Wade grow closer, Tabitha, Junie’s moral compass, pressures Junie to reveal the truth.

     And then fate takes hold of events.

     One of Junie’s mother’s less harmful obsessions is an Oprah-type daytime TV program called The Kendra Show. Junie arrives home one day to find Kendra, herself, standing in the living room. It seems Kendra has been moved by a letter Junie’s mother wrote asking for help. Junie, her mother, their sewage filled basement and all of Junie’s dirty little secrets are about to be exposed to the world.

     If this all seems far-fetched, the reactions of Junie’s friends and family to this crisis seem pitch perfect. Beginning with Junie’s father, who’s never been furnished with a tidy excuse for the choices he’s made and now struggles to express his disapproval, to Wade, who is understandably stunned and unable to do anything other than just walk out, each character’s response rings with authenticity.

     Author Carrie Mac has an excellent ear for dialogue. She is as equally adept at nailing the juvenile chit-chat of Junie and Tabitha as she is at capturing Kendra’s manipulative purr. Take for example this passage between a vulnerable Junie and a sophisticated, deadline oriented Kendra:

“Get out,” Junie growled. She covered the lens with her hand and then said it again, as menacingly as she could. “Get the hell out of my house. Now.”

“Honey, let me talk to you, one on one.” Kendra picked her way back to Junie and put a hand on each of her shoulders, ignoring Tabitha. Junie could smell her perfume, something flowery and subtle. Kendra gave her a warm smile. “Now, we both want the same thing here, I’m pretty sure. You want your mamma to get better, right?”

“Of course, but not like this-"

“Well now, you don’t even know what ‘this’ is yet, do you, hon?”

Junie shook her head.

“So how about I tell you what we’ve got going on? Okay?

Her voice was low, almost hypnotic. Junie could see how she made a living from talking. Junie had to admit that she did want to hear more. Especially if it meant fixing her mom.

     Unfortunately, the cover art of The Opposite of Tidy points readers in a misleading emotional direction. Instead of the happy-go-lucky girl-world suggested by the stack of clothes and pink cowboy boots, this book is really a reminder that we never know what’s going on behind the closed doors of others. While Junie’s dysfunctional home might be beyond what many readers recognize, her anxieties and insecurities are perfectly familiar and typical.

     Girls looking for a story that represents their lives in a unique and entertaining manner will be well satisfied with The Opposite of Tidy.

Highly Recommended.

Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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