Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
Published 2015 by Harper Teen
352 pages, YA Contemporary/Romance
Then it sat by my bed for almost three months, in which time I kept renewing it. I tried starting it one night, but it seemed to cutesy, like "Ooh, here's a fun twist on falling for the boy next door; what if he's kidnapped by his dad for ten years in the middle, so he's part boy-next-door, part stranger-comes-to-town?" Leaving our eponymous Emmy to squeal at her pre-requisite best girly girlfriend and best gay boyfriend, "Oooh, I stuck my tongue out at him, tee hee! Oooh, he remembers that our bedroom windows face each other!"
So I stopped reading it.
But now it's due in three days, no renewals left, and I have yet to hear anyone say they thought it was dumb, so I gave it one more try.
YAY FOR DUE DATES!
The characterization is the first thing that won me over. Granted, everything from boy-next-door to gay-best-bud are pretty standard, but Benway creates distinct individuals to fill these roles. I felt like the story could have been written from any of the main characters' point of view, because I could believe that they all HAD a point of view, and that the story would have sounded different coming from any of them. Side characters (lots of siblings, for the most part) weren't as fleshed out, but they still had a spark of life.
At first I thought the whole "he was kidnapped and now he's back" thing was just to create drama around a standard teen romance. But instead, the story really delves into how the shock waves from that one event affected different characters, and still continues to. Emmy is a fond and loving daughter who keeps major parts of herself from her fond and loving parents, because the terror of having the neighbor boy disappear has completely affected how they parent. Oliver's guilt, anger, and confusion make a lot of sense. If anyone is entitled to a little teen angst, it's this kid whose loyalty is torn between the parent who raised him and the one who lost him.
Oliver's mom is a particularly thought provoking character. She could have been entirely one dimensional--"mom whose kid was kidnapped" is a pretty restrictive role, after all. But she's written in a way that you can see how annoying she is, and how sad, and how angry, and how fragile and tough and...
We've all grown to expect some witty repartee in our YA contemporaries (I blame John Green, but it probably pre-dates him), and this one delivers. The kids' humor and speech patterns are natural and believable, and Benway is good at relating both multiple conversations overlapping and the way friends tend to leap from topic to topic without losing each other.
The love story, while sweet, is really the least interesting part of the book. Emmy and Oliver are able to listen to each other and help each other work out their related-but-oh=so-different family issues, but there is virtually no suspense. I mean, their names are on the cover, with a pretty heart.