I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Emmy & Oliver on June 23rd 2015
Pages: 352 •Format: ARC •Goodreads
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 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 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.
Emmy & Oliver holds a special place in my heart. The author, Robin Benway, is a wonderful, lovely human being and I found out from her via twitter that there was going to be an ARC giveaway of her newest title at the Epic Reads tent at YALLWEST, so it became one of my top priorities during the festival. I was so intrigued by the synopsis, as so often kidnapping is perpetrated by parents in a custody battle, and though the cover seemed like a YA romance I was willing to bet there were deeper themes hiding in this contemporary. Benway didn’t disappoint and delivered a unique combination of a fluffy contemporary built upon the foundations of community rocked by fear.
The book is set in Southern California (Yay! We need more West Coast books!) and Benway did a really great job at setting the scene. A middle class suburb, mere miles from the beach, Del Taco runs at lunch, February evenings that only require a hoodie- this book was so wonderfully SoCal. Juxtaposed against the laid-back setting was the constant tensions and anxieties that rippled through the families in the communities when one neighbor’s nightmare was realized ten years ago- her child never returned home from school. Emmy was best friends with Oliver, and his absence has had almost more of an impact on her life than his presence; it’s caused her parents to overcompensate and be insanely protective. When Oliver does come home, ten years later, it’s strange for her to navigate the void in her life since his kidnapping, which has lasted longer than the duration of time that she knew him.
Though the story is told from Emmy’s POV, the book is much more about Oliver than it is about their romance (which I was pleasantly surprised to discover). While everyone in the community celebrates his return, he is left in a horribly liminal space where he’s supposed to pick up where his life left off ten years ago, with a mother he barely remembers in a town that he only has fragments of memory of. It really struck me when Oliver mentioned that it was like being kidnapped all over again because he’s right. We always celebrate the return and rescue of victims, but often pay far too little attention to the struggle and ramifications of placing a person back into their former life when they’ve been irrevocably changed. Oliver’s emotional struggles and transitions are what really made the book such a compelling read for me.
I also enjoyed Emmy’s circle of friends, and Caro and Drew felt like fully fleshed out individuals rather than placeholder characters. I enjoyed their friendship and how the group sort of naturally, if a bit awkwardly, expanded to envelop Oliver back into their group. The adults, while perhaps realistically over-protective, could be so frustrating at times!
While I enjoyed that the book was a mix of fluffy contemporary and heavier themes, I wish it had fallen more on the serious side. There was so much more I wanted to know about Oliver’s time away, how he coped, how he was deceived by his father. I would’ve loved to see a whole transcript of Oliver’s news interview about being abducted and found, or learned more about his parents’ custody battle that provoked his father to take him. This book is very much a stand alone and everything was wrapped up almost a little too neatly for me in the end (considering what a messy situation it was in the beginning- he was missing for ten years and the book all takes place around a month or two. I suppose for tackling such a heavy topic I would’ve liked to see messier dynamics.
Overall: Emmy & Oliver is a rare contemporary that balances fluff and intense themes, without tipping into the category of being a “heavier” contemporary. It’s so much more than just a contemporary romance, and seeing Oliver struggle with such a unique situation is heartbreaking and fascinating. While I wish the book had delved more into the details and duration of Oliver’s kidnapping, it’s solidly written and has a believable and enjoyable cast of teenage friends. This is the first book by Robin Benway that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge