June 14, 2012

The Opposite of Tidy

by Carrie Mac
332 pp.
Ages 12+

This bright collage of covers of The Opposite of Tidy by Carrie Mac may depict some degree of clutter but nothing compared to the blight that is the home of fifteen-year-old Junie Ramsey.  Except for her room and the bathroom she uses, Junie's Vancouver home is a disaster of hoarded miscellany: storage boxes, garbage bags of clothes, craft materials, Chinese food cartons, pizza boxes, rubber bands, file boxes, and stacks of unopened packages. At the centre of it all is Junie's mom, Marla, who is obesely and emotionally bound to her armchair from which she compulsively buys from the Shopping Channel or the Internet.  Junie's father, Ron, had tried to be supportive but when he moved in with the life coach he'd hired to help, things went from bad to worse.  Regardless of her repulsion for her "disgusting" mother and her own desire for cleanliness and order, Junie has only shared some of her mom's problem with her best friend, Tabitha, and Tabitha's mom, Mrs. D., a Crown attorney.

When Junie is offered a ride home by Wade Jaffre, a new boy in Grade 11 on whom she is currently crushing, she can't possibly let him see that she lives at the house with the messed-up woman yelling at the man in the front yard.  So, she directs him a short way down the road to Tabitha's lovely home where she is lovingly greeted by Mrs. D.  So begins the subterfuge of homes, mothers and telephone numbers that has Junie running between houses, Tabitha upset with Junie for hiding the truth from Wade and preventing her from getting her mom's help when she sees rats in Junie's house, and Marla manipulating Junie with guilt and worry when she realizes she's unaware of Junie's boyfriend.  Fortunately, the one thing that is working out is Junie's relationship with Wade, who could win Boyfriend of the Year for his sincerity and affection for Junie.

Among the multitude of problems with lies (and there are so many) is the fact that they rarely are revealed at convenient or appropriate times.  So, when Junie sees a number of cop cars and TV vans outside her real home as Wade is driving her and Tabitha home from school, she doesn't think beyond her worry for her mother.  Big "oops" when she forces Wade to stop and then rushes to her mom.  While the drama at the house (courtesy of the appearance of talk show host, Kendra, who will be using Marla as her focus on a show about hoarding) delights Marla and the community, it reveals Junie's lies to Wade and exposes her dysfunctional family publicly.  This introduces new drama to Junie and Wade's relationship, and June's relationship with her mother, especially with attempts by Kendra's staff, including psychiatrist Nigel, to help Marla.

Hoarding may seem wildly fascinating to those who don't live with it but Carrie Mac ensures that the obsessive-compulsive nature of hoarding is seen as a complicated disorder in which those entangled attempt to sway others to their perspective.  Marla is hardly a sympathetic character, particularly in the manner by which she justifies her choices and manipulates Junie; however, I suspect she is not unique in this aspect.  Moreover, Junie vacillates between her revulsion, her anger, and her desperation to keep her mother safe, which probably explains why she feels the need to conceal her mother's condition.  By tying Junie's secrets to lies told to get and hold a boyfriend, Carrie Mac presents the story of a typical teen, eager to fit in and enjoy the firsts associated with young love, while dealing with some parental issues.  As such, Junie's story could be that of any teen, and young readers will undoubtedly find many connections with her which will help them to empathize with her situation. In The Opposite of Tidy, Carrie Mac's realistic depiction of a family's dysfunctional nature, hinged on a mental illness, provides a frank discussion of how the impact of a mental illness extends beyond the individual, as does its treatment.

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