Olivia Twist

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Olivia Twist Book Poster Image
Violent Dickens remake hangs on iffy romance.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Flowery, aristocratic old-fashioned language: "iniquitous," "vocation," "antiquated strictures of propriety," "his gentle ministrations," etc.

Positive Messages

Look inside yourself for the answers that you seek. Love never needs to be forgiven. Loyalty is precious.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Olivia's uncle is a devoted adult who insists that she follow her heart. Jack is disrespectful and abusive toward Olivia. He kisses her, and when she asks a question, he wonders "why the devil couldn't she just keep her mouth shut?"

Violence

Violence and sexual arousal are intertwined in a disturbing way. Jack grabs Olivia until his "fingers burn into her flesh." He pushes her, he slams her into a wall, he knocks the wind out of her while dancing roughly with her, he tells her: "Shut your mouth!" He admits: "There was something about her that brought out a fierce side of him, something primitive that made him want to throttle her one minute and protect her the next." Jack thinks of Olivia threateningly: "He wanted to find her and make her hurt as much as he did." Olivia is attracted to the "barely restrained ferocity [lurking] behind his ice blue eyes." It's mentioned that Olivia's mother was beaten by her father, enough that her mother ran away and died in childbirth, alone. Some graphic violence described intensely. A child is gagged and whipped. A murder is described in detail: "Knifing through cloth and flesh made a very distinct noise." Engaged fight scenes with bones cracking, blood spurting. Olivia knees someone in the nose, cracking it. Jack fights with knives and an umbrella. A gun is fired and held to someone's head. 

Sex

Jack wants to "kiss Olivia senseless," and they do share touches and kisses in intimate settings. Olivia's nurse does not want Olivia to become a prostitute, so she raises her as a boy. Prostitutes are grabbed at, girls are not safe around men. Women are objectified, called "whores," "light skirts," and are used for their bodies and their jewels. Jack watches longingly as a waitress's "ample bosom" nearly falls out of her corset.

Language

"Damn," "dammit," "hell," "whore," "whorehouse," "tosser."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Olivia's first nurse takes swigs from a bottle throughout the day. Olivia doses the maid at her uncle's home with laudanum, an opiate, so she'll not be aware when Olivia sneaks out at night. Men drink ale in pubs. Champagne and wine are consumed at parties.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lorie Langdon's historical romance novel, Olivia Twist, is a takeoff on the Charles Dickens classic about an orphan in 19th-century London. In this version, the hero is a girl who's been masquerading as a boy throughout her childhood. Romantic feelings and threatening behavior comingle as Olivia falls for Jack, a man out of her past. She's attracted to his ferocity and tries to soothe his tantrums by doing as he wishes. Jack grabs her, knocks the wind out of her, yells at and threatens her, and she keeps coming back for more. Teens may get lost in the flowery language of this moody historical romance, but the romantic entanglement is problematic.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11 and 12 year old Written byAlexandra4.0 August 6, 2018

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What's the story?

In OLIVIA TWIST, an orphaned newborn girl is given a male identity by her nurse so that she can better survive her impoverished childhood. Fast-forward a decade, and the street urchin known as Oliver Twist has been adopted by a rich uncle. She has recovered her female identity, socializing in 19th-century London as Olivia Twist. Though she loves her aging uncle and appreciates the finery that his wealth affords her, Olivia is committed to aiding the street kids who are hanging on by a thread in the slums of London. Her promising future takes a sudden turn when a handsome stranger enters her social circle. She finds herself attracted to this familiar man, and suddenly life as she knows it is turned on its ear.   

Is it any good?

Flowery language can't save this overreaching attempt to rewrite Dickens. Olivia Twist author Lorie Langdon says on her website that she was more inspired by the musical Oliver! than Oliver Twist, the novel, when deciding to refurbish the tale. She comes up with an interesting premise -- that Oliver Twist was actually a girl raised as a boy in order to keep her out of the hands of predators and traffickers. The trappings and chatter of 19th-century London are reasonably depicted, and the plot does pick up pace in the latter part of the story. But the writing is over the top: "Olivia was suffocating. Her eyes popped open to impenetrable darkness pressing down on her chest like a thousand anvils." And: "...a pair of lethal blue eyes haunted her until she could see no other. Her traitorous heart didn't care a whit about propriety or material possessions: it longed for passion and adventure." And so on.

In this era of #metoo, it's particularly disturbing to see a female YA character cave to a man who physically hurts her, yells at her, diminishes her ideas and stature, and makes her feel as though she's being "tempted by the devil." Olivia apologizes when Jack has a tantrum, assuming responsibility for his moods. When she speaks about her future, he accuses her of betrayal: "Would it kill you to have a little faith in me?" he asks with a "predatory" look in his eyes. Romance has its challenges, sure, and a good romance beats all odds. But passionate intensity and intimate violence are two different things. This romance fails to understand the difference. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how gender and class roles have changed since the time of Olivia Twist. What has stayed the same? Why are period dramas popular? What's so intriguing about revisiting the past?

  • How would you react if your best friend was being treated badly by a sweetheart. Would you get involved? What movies or shows depict teens struggling in relationships? Are they realistic?

  • How does this version of Oliver Twist compare with the musical version or the book? Which is your favorite and why?

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