There are some books that you read, and afterwards when you reflect on them there are one or two words which clearly spring to mind, be them good or bad. When I finished this book, the one word that would not stop running through my head was lovely, because this is a lovely, lovely book which I just loved.
Olive is a slightly unusual girl with a slightly unusal family life (a mother, Mog, a magistrate, and an absent father, WilliamPetersMustardSeed being just two of its consituents). She lives in a slightly unusual house in a slightly unsual part of her slightly unusual (to British readers) Australian town and at the school she attends, because the other girls aren't nice enough to use the word unusual, they call her odd. Sometimes, to her face. And yet, Olive is ploughing along reasonably well with things, until in the fickle way of girly friendships, bestie Mathilda trades her in for a super popular and not at all odd alternative, Amelia. And then, Olive is pretty stuck.
Just when she's beginning to feel down about things, along comes Pip. She may be the splitting image of Olive, but Pip's nothing like her. She's bold and brash and full of wacky ideas. She says things other people only think, and does things other people think of but don't go through with, and when the two of them are together, she goes ahead and says and does all these things so Olive doesn't have to. With Olive's brains working things out and Pip's compulsion to get on and do stuff, the pair of them are pretty unstopable, and as her companion's character starts to rub off on her a bit, people start to see a different side of Olive too.
Olive sees Pip as a long lost twin sister, and doesn't dwell too much on where she's come from, or why she has only now appeared, a good decade into their respective lives. Readers might see Pip as a facet of Olive's character, and this would fit in with the way she appears when needed most, and leaves again when Olive's feeling more in control. Either way, they are two sides of the same coin, and the way they complement each other is at time stunning but always appears natural.
I loved this book because though it was only recently written, it has the makings of a classic. It is virtually timeless, and though set in Victoria, has universal appeal. Olive is a brilliant, feisty heroine, if a little understated at times, while Pip is the devilish imp we all wish we dare be. The story is often clever, never boring, and very real, as are the characters - at many a point in the book I just wanted to pick Olive up and hug her, or high five Pip. It reads beautifully and never drags. It is a warm, funny story about discovering more about yourself and the people in your circle, and why sometimes the imagined is much preferable to the real, if only you'd left it at that. Highly recommended.
Age range: 8 years and up (to and including adults)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: David Fickling Books (3 Jul 2008)
Used on Amazon: from £2.86
New on Amazon: £8.99
This review originally appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk under my name.