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Review: Emmy and Oliver

Title: Emmy and Oliver
Author: Robin Benway
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 23, 2015

“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?

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 grown 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 had 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.

Readers who love Sarah Dessen will devour these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver’s father’s crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story.”

When my two favorite contemporary authors – Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins – started hyping this book months ago, I knew I needed to read Emmy & Oliver. I’m usually very cautious (and rather skeptical) when it comes to contemporary YA, but Emmy & Oliver blew me away. Yes, the characters are in high school and have overbearing parents who just don’t get it, god! But Emmy & Oliver is so much more, and the story focuses intimately upon how everyone’s lives are impacted by Oliver’s kidnapping and subsequent return. From my reading, Emmy & Oliver is fundamentally about three things: friendship, feminism, and finding yourself (yay alliteration!).

The friendships in this book were amazing. I so enjoyed the dynamic between Emmy, Caro, and Drew. Their friendship felt so real, from the secrets they share to the quick-fire quips they throw at one another. There’s the central dynamic between all three, but each of them has a special connection to the others. A true character test for me is that I could 100% imagine what Caro and Drew do when they’re not with Emmy. Drew’s relationship with Kevin was so damn cute, I wanted to hear more about Drew and his Starbucks barista. Also, bonus points to Robin for showing something YA authors tend to shy away from – teenagers curse, A LOT OK.

Emmy and Oliver is undeniably a feminist book. The overprotectiveness of Emmy’s parents has nothing to do with her being a girl, and at no point in this novel are any of Emmy’s struggles ascribed to or derivative of her being female. Robin Benway brilliantly injects social commentary that’s real, not heavy handed. There are several moments, including Emmy getting catcalled at the beach, but one scene in particular stands out. Emmy and Caro are getting ready for a party, and Oliver doesn’t understand why “you’re not like other girls” isn’t a compliment. Their response is perfect: “what’s wrong with being like other girls?”

I adored Emmy, with her awkward responses and secret surfing, but Oliver stole the show for me. He spent ten years with his dad, and then is returned to a mother he doesn’t know, people he doesn’t remember, and reporters eager for a story. My heart kept breaking for Oliver, and you see him struggle with reconciling everything that’s happened to him. The relationship between Oliver and Emmy is complex, but really sweet.

I loved Emmy & Oliver so much that I’ll probably read it again next weekend at the beach. I laughed, I cried, the whole shebang…because this book felt so real. It’s about being a teenager and trying to be yourself when others want you to be something else. But it’s also about family, and distance, and reconciling the memory of a person with the reality of them. Robin created a story I know I’ll return to often. Highly, highly recommend.

Rating: 5 stars

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