Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Book Review: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

First published: 13th March 2012
By: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Olivia Bean knows trivia. She watches Jeopardy! every night and usually beats at least one of the contestants. If she were better at geography, she would try out for the show’s kids’ week. Not only could she win bundles of money, she’d get to go to the taping in California, where her dad, who left two years ago and who Olivia misses like crazy, lives with his new family.
One day Olivia’s friend-turned-nemesis, Tucker, offers to help her bulk up her geography knowledge. Before Olivia knows it, she’s getting help from all sorts of unexpected sources: her almost-stepdad, superannoying Neil; her genius little brother, Charlie; even her stressed-out mom. Soon she has breezed through the audition rounds and is headed for Hollywood! But will the one person she wants to impress more than anyone else show up to support her?

My review:

I thought this was a great children's novel. Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen feels like a story its target age group would connect and identify with and there are enough emotional layers to make it worthwhile for an adult reader, too.

Twelve year-old Olivia is nuts about the gameshow Jeopardy! and never misses an episode. She loves trivia and she also loves the fact that it's something she shares with her dad. Olivia's dad left the family and broke their trust in a really awful way, but of course, Olivia still misses him and wants him back in her life, the way he used to be. The gradual reveal of Olivia's dad as a total scumbag is subtle and well done. Olivia often mentions things her father said and the reader begins to see that he is constantly putting her down, even though Olivia, being a kid who loves her dad, phrases his insults in a way that shows she thinks she is to blame.

Olivia's dad is a character you want to kick in the groin, repeatedly and a better alternative is her mother's new boyfriend, Neil. I also think this relationship is nicely portrayed and develops realistically. Olivia resents and dislikes Neil at first, but comes to accept him and there's no over-the-top heroic moment where Neil rescues a dog from a burning building or anything - Olivia grows to think of him as her family almost without realising, because he does what fathers are supposed to do: Be there.

One of the reasons I think Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is such a nice read is because of its focus on family. The scenes of the family together actually made me miss being that age and living at home. Baby brother Charlie, really reminded me of my own youngest brother, who was also simultaneously annoying and cute. There are also some good messages in this: Olivia does seem younger than twelve, but I was glad to read about a kid who wasn't bratty or spoiled and I like that the novel encourages girls to be smart.

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is a little predictable for adult readers (who have been around the reading block and know that, obviously, Olivia must make it onto Jeopardy! or the novel would stop there) but it's enjoyable nonetheless. And I wholeheartedly recommend it for children with a reading age of 8 and up. I'm keeping it on my Kindle in preparation for any nieces or nephews I may have to entertain.

Rating: 4 stars

This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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