Two name novels are in vogue. Eleanor and Park, Zac and Mia, Althea and Oliver. After a quick Internet search, I’m not the only YA book blogger who has noticed the trend. I loved Eleanor and Park, but I couldn’t get past the first part of Zac and Mia. When Emmy and Oliver caught my attention, I was a bit skeptical. Was Robin Benway attempting to ride the wave of two-name young adult novels for the sake of higher sales. Who knows. What I do know is that Benway has written a book that stands on its own merits.
Emmy and Oliver are elementary school friends and next door neighbors who are separated for nearly a decade after Oliver’s father, worried over his ex-wife’s threat to gain full custody, kidnaps Oliver during one of his custody weekends. Oliver’s kidnapping affects everyone involved. Emmy’s parents become much more protective and overbearing. When Oliver returns during their senior year of high school, no one is quite sure how to respond. The adults request that Oliver be given space to reacquaint himself with his family. Emmy wonders whether her parents will lighten up on curfew and the other overprotective measures put in place after Oliver’s disappearance. Most importantly, Emmy struggles to recapture the second-grade friendship she shared with Oliver.
Although Emmy and Oliver is a story about timeless friendship, it also provoked many thoughts about overprotective, helicopter parents who prevent their children from experiencing and responding to the ups and downs of life. Emmy’s parents are off-the-charts. She’s a senior in high school, yet she has a sundown curfew during the summer. Their overprotective nature pushes Emmy to live under a veil of secrecy. She lies about her surfing; she applies to college while they feel she should attend community college and live at home; and she attends parties while telling her parents she’s sleeping over at her friend Caro’s (Caroline) house. Other subplots add substance to the story. Emmy and Caro’s friend, Drew, a soccer star, is gay and must deal with the dilemma of same-sex dating in high school.
However, the most compelling aspect of the story is Oliver’s reaction to returning home after ten years away. At one point in the book, he says, ” Coming home is like being kidnapped all over again.” When his father kidnapped him, Oliver had to learn the ways of a new life, including a new name. When he returned home as a teenager, everyone assumed to would re-acclimate after a short time. It wasn’t that simple. His mother had remarried and given birth to twin daughters, his friends were different people, and he was an unwilling celebrity. He needed his friends, but since they were told to give him space, he felt isolated.
I found Emmy and Oliver fulfilling and compelling, and I look forward to recommending it to my eighth graders who enjoy teen romance with a twist.