After a while, young adult novels seem to blend together. Teenagers stuck in love triangles, dramatic life-and-death encounters, emotionally intense temptations. We get it. Works like The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park have become templates for other YA authors, outlines that are tweaked only in the slightest details. Originality is just hard to find.
Looking at the cover for Emmy & Oliver, I didn’t have much hope. The title is written in flowy script, the only art is a red heart hanging innocently near the edge, and a note on the back pegs it as “a novel of love—lost and found.” Open up the book, however, or pop in the audio cd, and you’ll hear another story.
Robin Benway’s novel deals with the relationship between Emmy and Oliver, two high school seniors reunited years after Oliver was kidnapped by his father in the third grade. The heart on the cover and expectations of the YA genre suggest that such a novel should be categorized as a romance, but that doesn’t quite capture everything going on here.
Extremely introspective, this novel explores what it means to be oneself. If you stripped everything away—friends, family, an entire past—who would you be? The Oliver who left years ago is not the same who returned, and though Emmy has stayed, she’s not quite the same either.
Take another look at the cover. The heart is made by two fingerprints—one aspect of the characters that will never change. In a refreshingly gentle way, Emmy & Oliver asks what parts of us are necessary for love, which parts are forever. Sure, there’s a touch of YA sappiness every now and then, but Benway finally takes the genre past dramatic, passionate love and explores what roles consistency—or a lack thereof—can play.
Thanks for reading. –Autumn