Olive Blackwood Takes Action!

S. & S./Aladdin. May 2024. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781665939331.
Gr 3-5–Twelve-year-old Olive Blackwood is an aspiring fantasy film director who dreams of attending an elite summer filmmaking camp. When her film teacher offers a personal recommendation to the group of students that creates a winning documentary trailer, Olive is thrilled—until she learns the groups and topic have been pre-selected. Around the same time, Olive witnesses a weird confrontation between an old woman with a frying pan and a beaver, then hears a news story about a beaver being killed. Olive is horrified to learn that killing beavers is legal in Oregon, despite the good they do for the environment. Through the course of the novel, Olive must battle anxiety to work with her groupmates on the documentary, build and repair personal relationships, and stand up for a cause she believes in. There’s a lot going on in Thomas’s second middle grade novel, and it’s hard to pin down what the central conflict is. There is also a lack of nuance in the problems and the characters’ responses to them. When Olive sees (and films) the old woman chasing the beaver, the old woman asks her to stop filming and call animal control. Instead of exhibiting curiosity about what might cause an elderly woman to chase a beaver, Olive repeatedly refers to the woman as a “crone” who is clearly in the wrong. Olive twice experiences misunderstandings with friends, and both times is given the silent treatment as an immediate response. At times situations are not fully explained, and at other times explanations feel forced and the dialogue rings false.
VERDICT An important message about overcoming anxiety is muddled in a busy plot. Purchase for larger collections.

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