Review: Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy & Oliver - Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver is a boy/girl next door love story with a twist.  Emmy has lived next door to Oliver her entire life and they have been best friends since they were born.  They did everything together and even share the same birthday.  When the kids are seven years old, their lives are irrevocably shattered when Oliver's father kidnaps him during a custody dispute.  For the next ten years, Emmy wonders what happened to her friend and has to endure the repercussions of the kidnapping while Oliver embarks on an adventurous life with his father under the presumption that he was abandoned by his mother.  Their lives are once again in upheaval when Oliver is discovered in New York and is re-untied with a family and community that has changed dramatically during his absence.


I have a bit of a problem with social issues books like this one.  I really wanted to like it and take the story seriously.  I acknowledge it had a few moments of cuteness, but there were too many things that grated on my nerves and the novel never fell into the realm of believability.  The overall tone of the story is incredibly juvenile - more on that later.


The part of the story that worked the most is Oliver's reactions to his family and old friends.  He's beyond angry and doesn't trust anyone, including Emmy.  He barely remembers his life before the kidnapping and very few things are familiar and provide comfort.  He misses his dad and cannot move beyond the anger he feels towards his mother even though he now knows she never abandoned him.  Emmy and Oliver do not immediately pick up where their friendship left off and their initial interactions together are awkward. Oliver's characterization is probably the most enjoyable aspect of the story and it tugs at your heart at how much he is hurting.


Although the story has some dramatic momentum, it lacks execution.  There were stylistic and editing issues that may very well come down to personal preference, but I kept cringing at certain word choices in the book.  There is a great deal of character "flinching" and every other page has someone uttering the words "I'm sorry."  Many character facts are told to the reader over and over again, one example being that Caro has five siblings and is annoyed that she has to share a room with her messy sister Heather.  A book with better editing would catch repetitive words and phrases and force the author to re-write a scene to show us that a character is feeling remorse, guilt or anger without literally having to tell us the feeling word they are experiencing.


One of my biggest pet-peeves about YA novels is the recurring cliche that parents are EVIL selfish assholes.  All of these teenage characters know right from wrong more than their adult counterparts and all of their problems stem from the unreasonable actions of their parents.  Emmy is a seventeen year old girl whose parents are illogically overprotective and will not permit her to apply for colleges away from home, enforce a 9:00 p.m. curfew and expect her to refrain from dating until she is eighteen.  She has no choice but to constantly lie to her parents because they imprison her in their home and do not allow her to be herself.  Caro and Drew's parents are noticeably absent and have no idea who their children are (or where they are, for that matter).  Then there's Oliver's parents, who use their child as a weapon to hurt each other.


Teenage rebellion is part of the process of growing up and forming opinions about life that may not always match up with those of your family.  These dynamics should definitely be explored in coming of age stories, but the adults in this book are one-dimensional exaggerated caricatures of the worst kinds of parents. The notion that these kids are more enlightened and logical than their parents is downright ludicrous and the majority of the conflict is unrealistically resolved when the adults accept the "right" point of view of their kids.  Ridiculous.