by Robin Benway
To be published on June 23, 2015
Source: eARC for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared. Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling. Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?
My take: I love contemporary YA. But lately, you've seen me grumping on here about a trend in contemporary YA that I'm not so fond of: contemporary books with too much going on. It seems to me that some writers tackling contemporary YA worry that the genre is too mundane and that it needs to be jazzed up with paranormal twists or main characters with psychotic breaks or people who peel their faces off and are actually someone else (okay, I made that last one up, but still..)
I firmly believe that reality can be enough, that contemporary YA can be simple and real and still be able to capture readers' attentions and their hearts.
Thank you, Robin Benway, for writing a book that is Exhibit A in my argument. Emmy & Oliver has a simple premise: Emmy and Oliver are best friends. When Oliver is seven, he disappears. Ten years later, he comes back. That's it.
But with that simple premise, Benway is able to explore a multitude of issues and themes and do so in a way that was moving, funny, and memorable. I love that Emmy & Oliver was able to explore all the different repercussions of Oliver's disappearance and return -- emotions and reactions that are like ripples on a pond. The parents of Oliver's friends (including Emmy's parents) clutched their children tighter after he vanished, so tightly that Emmy feels like a prisoner herself and has resorted to sneaking out to learn to surf and secretly applied to college. Oliver's mother, who looked tirelessly for her son, has also remarried and had twins. Emmy has made other friends, but the absence of Oliver has left a hole in her life that has never been filled.
When Oliver returns, everything has to be recalibrated: Oliver's family, Emmy's friendships and situation with her parents, and Emmy and Oliver's relationship. I was wondering whether this would be a friendship story or a friends-to-romance story and it could have gone either way, but I liked the way that it went. I loved the way family and friendship were portrayed -- real, funny, and sometimes messed-up.
Emmy & Oliver is one of my favorites of 2015 -- to me, it was a great example of everything a wonderful contemporary story can be.
If you've read it, let me know what you think in comments!