REVIEW: EMMY AND OLIVER, BY ROBIN BENWAY

Emmy-OliverEmmy & Oliver
Written by Robin Benway
Published by HarperTeen


When he was seven years old, Oliver left his childhood home with his father to start a new life together. Oliver’s mother didn’t want them anymore. Or so Oliver thought.

It turns out that Oliver’s father kidnapped him, and through the ten years they’ve been gone his mother, Maureen, has looked for him ceaselessly. (She’s also started a new family, having twins, but never left the house Oliver grew up in, just in case he came home one day.)

Emmy and Oliver were best friends when they were kids, and she’s never forgotten about the boy from the house next door. They were inseparable once upon a time, but now that he’s been found and has returned home will he even remember her? Can they be friends again?

This is the intriguing premise behind Robin Benway’s latest novel, Emmy & Oliver, and Benway handles it with great sensitivity. The kids and their friendships feel authentic, and the parent’s reactions to the kidnapping to Oliver’s return eventual read true. (If our next door neighbour’s kid went missing the first thing I would do is turn to my own and say “Sorry, kiddo, your life is dull from here on out. Get used to my presence.”) What I most appreciate in Benway’s portrayal of modern teen life, is that she doesn’t define her characters are wholly good or bad, but creates characters that, while they are good kids, they often make choices contrary to their own well-being and happiness.

Oliver and Emmy’s relationship –the focus of the book– is wonderful, and builds with precision. When he first returns home, it verges on the anti-climactic, but in Benway’s capable hands it pays off big dividends.

That’s not to say that the book is without it’s faults. There is a sequence toward the end (it involves a meeting in a coffee shop) which requires a suspension of disbelief not required of the rest of the novel.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Oliver’s dad is apologizing for all of the things he’s done in the past but then he arranges for his son to witness his arrest, which really seems like he’s torturing his son considering that he’s also just said the Oliver was the one who turned him in. When the police arrive their sirens are going, but Oliver and his dad have been sitting their for a while already; either What’s the rush? or What took them so long to get there? Why is Oliver’s mom with them? Did they swing by her house to pick her up, and then flick on the sirens? And, especially, why is Emmy’s mom with them?

END OF SPOILER! END OF SPOILER! END OF SPOILER!

The scene is mildly jarring, only because so much care had been taken throughout the rest of the book, and nothing until that moment felt rushed, and here it feels a bit like Benway felt like she needed to tie things up. She didn’t; I would have loved another 50 or 75 pages to wrap up the lose ends with the same care taken throughout the rest of the novel. That said, the book as a whole does not suffer substantially from this, and what we’re left with is a phenomenally engaging premise populated with beautiful character studies from a world-class talent.

Highly recommended.

-J.H.


Kinderlit.ca requested and received a copy of Emmy & Oliver in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.

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