Thursday, December 17, 2009
Publisher Review: Pip: The Story of Olive
Olive is an odd-looking young girl who lives with a single mom who is single-mindedly chasing a career goal, and putting in too many hours to really be there for Olive at the moment. She doesn't quite fit in among the ruthless social structure at her girls' school, either, but has a best friend who shares her love of long baths, dress-up, and good snacks. The friend helps, gives her someone with whom to stave off the lonely hours, and a sense of belonging. So when her friend falls prey to the lure of the popular girls and is eager to be brought into their fold even at the expense of her friendship with Olive, Olive is cut adrift.
With too many free hours to start contemplating life, Olive's ever-present curiosity about her father grows unbounded. He is know to her only known by name and old stories of how the family lived as hippies when she was a baby, plus one old photo, so there is plenty of scope for her imaginings. And then one day, the day she is dealt the final parting insult by her former best friend and the top girls, she discovers her twin. Pip.
This twin moves in with her, goes to school with her, provides her with company, and eggs her on, getting her to do some things she wouldn't do on her own, and even getting her into some small trouble at school. (The twin, it is never explicitly said, is imaginary.) In fact, the twin so emboldens Olive that the two of them together hatch a plan to find their father, using clues to figure out last place he was known to be and plotting out how to get there.
And they do it. They skip school, lie to their mother, and board a train for a town a little ways away down the coast of Autralia. What they find, though, is not what Olive dreams of, but a man who has built a life with no room in it for her. The book ends with Olive having the answers she needs to move forward, even if they are not as she hoped - realistic, yet not depressing, for other things have turned up well in the meantime.
Her mother's aspiration has been met, and she will have more time, as well as seeing how desperately Olive needs her around. Olive has found a new friend at school during all of this, a girl with similar sense of humour and lack of interest in the school's hierarchy, so she can let Pip fade away, disappearing from her mirror and leaving her one.
The language in this book is lovely, capturing the beauty of the wild coastline and a less-structured life with a strong sense of the wistful. Longing is palpable, befitting Olive's emotional state through most of the book. And as someone who had her own unanswered questions about her absent father at this same age, I know it to be true. In fact, I had a friend with whom I plotted a trip out west to my father's last-known whereabouts as well - but it's a longer trip than Olive made, and my friend and I just plotted and dreamed, both too practical to really convince ourselves to go. Still, I know the pull of wanting to just know, and I found it pitched well here.
And for concerned parents - the dangers inherent in such a trip are not ignored by Olive entirely. She has been focused on the puzzle and the planning, not thinking of that until she has set out, but when she starts to think of that and second-guess her decision on the way, it seems too late to turn back, and she goes ahead, cautiously.
I found this book haunting and lovely, yet grounded in emotions that I recognized - a read for a thoughtful child, or one a little more mature.