Title: Emmy & Oliver
Author: Robin Benway
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: 1st August 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars
‘Oliver’s absence split us wide open, dividing our neighbourhood along a fault line strong enough to cause an earthquake. An earthquake would have been better. At least during an earthquake, you understand why you’re shaking.’
Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. But now Oliver is back, and he’s not the skinny boy-next-door that used to be Emmy’s best friend. Now he’s the boy who got kidnapped. A stranger – a totally hot stranger! – with a whole history Emmy knows nothing about.
But is their story still meant to be? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles – impossible to fit together?
I expected a romance. And I got one, but it wasn’t the sort of story I expected (hence my enjoyment!) Although Emmy’s present is the main storyline, every so often we get a glimpse into her past relationship with Oliver – it went backwards, starting in Year 2 and ending on the date of their births. I really liked this backwards timeline, though I can’t really explain why. (Read the book and you might be able to offer some more insight on that point!)
Oliver and Emmy were the best of friends, but at the beginning of the story, he isn’t around. Oliver was kidnapped by his father during Year 2, a situation which tore the community apart with grief when they couldn’t locate him. Emmy, her friends, and her family have been wondering for ten years, and then the bombshell news arrives. He has been found. Oliver is coming home.
Benway really encapsulated a sense of dislocation for Oliver. His mother has never stopped searching, wishing, and hoping, but in the ten years since his disappearance she has remarried and had twin girls. Oliver, who was called Colin when with his father, not only has to deal with a new name, but also the sense that he is intruding on a family he never knew existed.
Emmy was a wonderful protagonist, not only dealing with Oliver’s arrival, but also with parents who became ever stricter after Oliver’s kidnapping. She loves to surf, but has to keep her skill hidden, as her parents would be disapproving of the danger. The impact Oliver’s disappearance has had on the entire community is explored very strongly and with great depth. Benway is truly a master of character.
The blossoming romance was nice, not too overdone – there were a few gushy moments which made me squirm! But what I enjoyed most was Benway’s portrayal of how Emmy’s previous friendships are affected. She really grasped how friendships can be put aside and resentments grow at the same time as a new romance begins.
Benway has written a spectacular novel, perfectly characterising a whole community without crowding her novel. While romance isn’t normally my thing (even in YA), I will definitely read more from Benway – her style is compelling and her characters very well-rounded. Plus, it was so nice to see a character called Emily who isn’t nasty, or a doll!