Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
|Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway|
|Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam|
|Summary: A thoughtful and realistic YA contemporary, with an enjoyable mix of friendship, family and romance.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: July 2015|
|Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books|
|External links: Author's website|
When he was 7 years old, Oliver's father kidnapped him, under the false pretence that his mother had left them. He disappeared without a trace, leaving a devastating hole in the lives of his mother, childhood friends and neighbourhood. After 10 years, Oliver has finally reappeared and is coming back home. Despite having dreamed about his return for so long, it had become such an unlikely prospect over the years, that his family and friends suddenly find themselves with no idea how to react; how do they go about renewing a relationship with an Oliver who is a stranger, barely recognisable as the 7 year old they knew?
Oliver is faced with the difficult task of picking up the pieces of his old life, having found himself completely torn away from the life he built with his father. However, he isn't alone is his task. Determined to help him are his childhood friends, Emmy, Caro and Drew. Emmy and Oliver were particularly close as children, being next-door neighbours, and though they will have to work to get to know each other again, theirs is a bond that even 10 years apart has failed to fully diminish.
You can probably guess just by the title and the cover, that Emmy and Oliver's relationship doesn't stay platonic for long. Unfortunately, I wasn't completely enthused by their romance. While I enjoyed the slow build-up of their friendship, the romantic chemistry between the pair felt a little forced; this wasn't helped by the flashback scenes told from the point of view of a pre-school Emmy, that were rather saccharine and failed to add anything to the story. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the romance turned out to be just one component of a really nice coming-of-age story, that puts just as much heart into exploring the changing relationships between Emmy and her friends and family, as her relationship with Oliver. Both characters have their emotional baggage, especially when it comes to their parents. Emmy has spent her whole life sheltered and smothered by her parents, who have let the fear from Oliver's kidnapping turn them paranoid and overprotective, and is desperately searching for a way to escape from her suffocating home life. Meanwhile, Oliver struggles to reconcile the life he spent living with his father, blissfully ignorant of his crime, with the realisation that his mother has been desperately looking for him for 10 years, and now has a new family of her own. The way they help each other work out their respective problems is really well done, and one of the most satisfying parts of the story.
The supporting cast is well written, with Caro, Drew, Emmy's parents and Oliver's mum all being far from cardboard cut-outs, each with small but interesting character arcs of their own. The depiction of the easy friendship between Emmy, Caro and Drew is particularly well portrayed, as is the difficulty that Oliver finds in integrating himself with them at first.
Not only do the characters feel honest and relatable, the plot also progresses in a way that feels organic and realistic, thanks in most part to the refreshing lack of unnecessary drama throughout, despite the seriousness of Oliver's kidnapping underlying the entire story. Benway's choice to keep the story calm and thoughtful does little to diminish its emotional impact. Rather, the extra time spent on exploring the characters and their emotions pays off with a solid ending.
Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For another great YA summer read with a similarly quiet and thoughtful tone, Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson is a wonderful story about friendship and growing-up, filled with a great cast of likeable characters. Meanwhile, The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight by Jenny Valentine is a tense and absorbing thriller that offers a different take on the concept of the return of a missing child, and comes strongly recommended.
You can read more book reviews or buy Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway at Amazon.com.
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