A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love historical novels and romance
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