I was looking forward to reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. Not only does it have an interesting concept, but I've enjoyed Benway's books in the past. Emmy & Oliver really surpassed my expectations though.
Oliver disappears over a three day weekend in second grade. He was abducted by his father and it changed the lives of his three best friends, Emmy, Caro, and Drew forever. Emmy's life was devastated the most. She was his best friend, next door neighbor, and they had been inseparable since they were babies. Stowed away in her room is the last memory she has of Oliver, the note Caro passed to him asking him whether or not he liked Emmy on the Friday he was taken with the yes circled three times. Oliver left a hole in Emmy's life and forever altered her view on the world. It also caused her parents to turn extra cautious and protective. Ten years later all Emmy wants is to make her own choices and live her own life. Her world is changed again when Oliver is found and returned home. Now that he is back Emmy has to figure out who this person that she knew so well but doesn't know at all anymore fits into her life. (And how she fits into his.)
The characters in this book are wonderful. Emmy is smart, caring, and makes a good sounding board and support system for Oliver. She is also deceptive and isn't sensitive enough to the feelings of Caro and Drew as she gets so wrapped up in Oliver when he returns. Oliver is a great guy, but also a hot mess. Finding out everything you thought for the past 10 years is a lie can really mess with your head, and Oliver is confused and out of place and ridden with guilt. The relationship between Emmy and Oliver develops organically. She listens. He talks. And vice-versa. They have a wonderful chemistry, but the genuinely are friends too. Drew and Caro are just as alive and nuanced as Emmy and Oliver. They have their own strengths and weaknesses and problems. The struggle Oliver has trying to fit back into this group when he's missed ten years of experiences with them is genuine. Watching them all try to fit their new selves together with their old memories-memories that are barely there for Oliver-makes for a rich and full story. The dialogue between all four of them is pitch perfect.
In addition to the strong characterization of the four teens, the parents are also well drawn and multi-dimensional. The relationship between Emmy and her parents is the perfect mix love and frustration with all the emotions involved in a child wanting to let go while her parents are still holding on. The fraught relationship between Oliver and his mother is also very well done. As is Oliver's confused feelings toward his father.
I was a little concerned going in that the book would rely on some crazy drama or twist to spice up the book, but all of the conflict made sense in the context and developed organically. I thought it was an incredibly realistic look at the psychology and fall-out of such a situation. I recommend this read for anyone who enjoys well written contemporary stories with in depth characters and amazing relationships.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Emmy & Oliver is available June 23rd.