Author: Emma Gannon
Describe the book in one word: Empowering
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Release date: 23rd July 2020
Independent. Adrift. Anxious. Loyal. Kind. She knows her own mind.
Olive is many things, and it’s okay that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made, boxes to tick and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. And when her best friends’ lives start to branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, Olive starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different,
I wish I were best friends with Olive Stone.
That’s how I felt around 40% of my way through Olive, the debut novel by Emma Gannon. I don’t quite know how to put my feelings into words, but here goes.
I loved this book. Perhaps not instantly, but gradually, like a slow burning flame that turned into a roaring fire and kept me cosy and warm. I’ve tried to think about why I loved this novel so much and there are a few reasons. It is relatable (I know I’m always banging on about books that are relatable and I promise, I do also love books I can’t relate to), the language is how I’d speak to my friends, and the story is reflective of life for us women in our 20’s, 30’s, and beyond.
The other reason I really love Olive is because (and this feels like a bit of a confession?) she reflects (perfectly) how I feel about having children. I’m not the only one in my group of friends not to want them, but all of my geographically close pals are in favour. This is partly why I wish I were best friends with Olive, because we would be able to chit chat about our childfree by choice lives.
Olive is an important character because she could potentially help generations of girls and women who feel different to their friends. Whether they feel super confident and happy doing their own thing, like Olive, or they need reminding that hey, you can do your own thing and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it!
I was thinking about this, and I suppose in some ways, Olive is the Bridget Jones for us women in our 20’s and 30’s today. By 33, Olive has built a life for herself, on her own terms. That in itself is empowering to read as it’s so not the prescribed route girls are taught while growing up and I don’t know if anyone else gets this, but sometimes it can feel like you’re doing the wrong thing or you don’t really know what you’re doing? But actually, if you enjoy what you do, stick with it, and work hard, things will come good. Gender roles are discussed throughout, with poignant questions such as: why do we still give girls dolls to look after and kitchen toys? being asked.
Life is hard for so many different people and for so many different reasons. This book highlights the changes a group of friends face as they make their way through life. It reflects the fact we never know what is round the corner and nothing can be predicted or taken for granted. It also highlights the unique paths a group of friends can take.
I love the fact Olive is real. I mean, I know she’s fictional, but if I could grab a drink with any fictional character, it would be Olive. Speaking broadly for everyone here from my own experience, women in their 20’s and 30’s feel so much pressure (I believe) to achieve and find their way, all while maintaining a certain body image, managing their mental health, potentially running a house and raising children (if they so wish) all while comparing themselves to the impossibly high (and curated) standards set on social media. It’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to other people at one time or another, but perhaps what’s more important are the feelings attached to this comparison.
Olive is empowering because she picks her own path and she makes it work. She is brave, she’s passionate, she’s human.
In summary, everyone should read Olive.
I’m now going to discuss the ending, so if you don’t want to read any spoilers, STOP READING NOW!
Spoiler alert ahead!
I’m giving you fair warning, do not read any further if you don’t want to read any spoilers!
So, I loved the ending. I wanted Olive to be happy and still in touch with her friends more than anything. While I love the ending, if there was an alternative ending I could choose for Olive, it would be this. Before I ramble on, I want to explain so that I don’t come across as a massive dick. I’ve recently read a feminist book, which has possibly (definitely) influenced this thinking and also, I have a tendency to want more. I KNOW. So annoying, I’m sorry.
So, in my alternate universe, I want Olive to be single at the end. Happy, fulfilled, surrounded by her pals, without children, but single. I realise that when they moved into the city and downsized into a flat, that was an unconventional ending and I love Emma Gannon for writing that. I suppose an alternative ending is more of a reflection of where my mind was when reading the book, I know it’s a projection, but I wanted to say it. I wouldn’t change the ending, I’m just saying, I would have equally loved it if Olive had sailed away into the sunset by herself (as long as she was happy).