CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Pip: The Story of Olive.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2009.
242 pp., hardcover, $14.95.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Lindsay Schluter
Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.
Olive always told herself she didn't need a father, but when she saw one her yearning came barreling back and the ache was real.
This yearning was private, anonymous; it had no name. Girls at school yearned for music and new skirts and tarts they could cook in the toaster. There wasn't anything bad about these desires, but Olive thought them rice-cracker wishes, insubstantial.
Sometimes Olive tugged out her eyelashes. She pulled them out in little clumps, and the sting distracted her from her wanting for a moment. Olive collected the eyelashes, as fine and pale as they were, and wished on them, but she couldn't wish for a father on an eyelash: a father wouldn't fit. A father wouldn't fit on a birthday candle, or on the surface of coins thrown into the park fountain, either. A wish like a father was too cumbersome, too heavy.
Every now and then, you stumble across a book that makes you stop in your tracks, and say "Wow." Kim Kane's debut novel, Pip: The Story of Olive, is one of those books, and with great poignancy, humour, and honesty, she has created a brilliant piece of fiction for avid young readers.
Having just entered Grade 7, Olive Garnaut is at an awkward point in her life when both her feet and her friends seem to be growing at a faster rate than she would like. It's true: Olive looked ever so slightly like an extraterrestrial, with her long thin face and widely spaced eyes. But it seemed as though every other girl in class had gotten the handbook on how to fit in, and that Olive was somehow being left behind in the wake of iPods and Video Hits and boys and pores. Olive truly believed that everything in her life was perfectly symmetrical: She was born at 2:22 a.m. on the second of February, weighing in at just 2.2 Kg. Even her family was of symmetrical proportion, living only with her mother (Mog) in an old ramshackle house by the sea. Olive had never met her father although she knew that his name was WilliamPetersMustardSeed and that he was a "flaky hippy"—according to Mog, anyways. The topic of Olive's father was strictly banned from the household, although no one ever stopped her from searching for him in Mog's old photo albums.
Having just been dumped by her best fiend, Mathilda, Olive decides to weave her way along the seashore, heavy-hearted and very much alone. The Seasonal Carnival is well on its way to being assembled, and as Olive passes by the puzzle-pieces of popcorn-stands and candy-apple stalls, she is mesmerized by the carnival mirrors, stretching and twisting her body's image in all directions. At that very moment, Olive sees a girl behind her who introduces herself as Pip Garnaut – a girl who mysteriously looks every bit as much as Olive's twin. At first, Olive is in disbelief. She can't possibly have a twin. But then again, wouldn't it make perfect sense for her to have a symmetrical second half?
Almost immediately, Olive begins to see that the two girls are extraordinarily identical. Even their eyes were exactly the same odd distance apart. And yet, Pip seemed to have a loudness about her that was much different than Olive's shy gentleness. She was bolder, she was braver, and she wasn't at all afraid of "fitting in" or following the rules. Together, the two girls decide to seek out their father, and despite Mog's warning that "he hasn't acted like a father, now or ever," they embark on a hopeful journey that will change their identity forever.
Certainly, the topic of "fatherless-ness" has been explored in fiction over and over again. In fact, the vast majority of child protagonists these days seem to be orphans – and yet, rarely do they get it right. Fatherless-ness is oftentimes just a convenient function of plot, written into the storyline as a way for the young protagonist to have a heightened sense of autonomy. Which is why Kim Kane's novel is such a wonderful breath of fresh air. The sheer honesty and depth behind Olive's emotions is refreshingly real—and with Kane's pen at the helm, those emotions are portrayed with the utmost originality and beauty.
In one particularly touching scene, Olive confesses that whenever she notices a man on the street or in the newspaper, she adds him to her mental catalogue of possible fathers "until he managed to be a jumble of everything: a netball-supporting gardener who drank wine, traded stocks over his mobile, danced, and cried in Danish." In another beautifully truthful scene, Olive flips through some of her mother's old photographs, simply willing one of her toast crumbs to fall on the man that is her father.
Kane's quirky style simply jumps off the page, and for those who enjoy reading Polly Horvath or even Roald Dahl, this novel will delight and satisfy. Kane's writing is chalk-full of subtle humour and nuanced hilarity, and although the topic at hand is somewhat serious, Kane is always sure to leave just enough room for a bit of playful indulgence. You've heard of a gaggle of geese and a murder of crows, but have you ever heard of a "gossip of girls?"
The novel's slightly sci-fi undertone is expertly woven into the story's plot, and although some readers may be somewhat reluctant to accept Pip's mystical manifestation, Kane allows readers the freedom to choose whether or not they believe in magic. It is entirely possible to read the book with the understanding that Pip is merely a figment of Olive's imagination – an illusion, an invention, and a psychological strategy that Olive has adopted in order to brave the battle of finding her father. On the other hand, readers may simply choose to indulge in the fantastical prospect of Pip's actual existence. You can believe what you want to believe, and for that very reason, the book will most definitely find popularity on any library shelf.
Kane is an Australian writer, and although Canadian readers will have no trouble following along, there are a few phrases in the novel that will leave kids scratching their heads….or at least running to Wikipedia (for example, I had to look up the meaning of a "tuck lunch" – which, incidentally, is a meal purchased from a cafeteria).
Pip: The Story of Olive was first published in Australia in 2008, and fortunately enough, David Fickling Books of Canada had the good sense to pick her up as well. Kim Kane is a writer to watch, and without a doubt, readers will be begging for more from this incredibly talented writer.
Lindsay Schluter is a Children's Librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library.
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