Review: Olivia Series 1&2 by Tessa Palmeri

★★★★★

As an editor, I sometimes get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at awesomeness in the making. And that’s exactly what this was! I read Olivia: On the Brink and its sequel, Olivia: Finding Her Way for work in 2015, and I absolutely loved both of them.

Set in the early ’90s, this series (which I believe has a planned five books in total) focuses on the main character, Olivia Miller, as she graduates high school and moves on to college life. Seems like a simple plot, and it is. That’s probably why I loved it so much; because although the plot isn’t convoluted and action-packed, the nature of the story is character-driven, which really lets you get into Olivia’s head and experience everything she’s going through.

Olivia Miller is pretty sure she’d win the high school senior award “Most Likely to Never Figure Out What They Want To Do With Their Life”. Her critical father and neglectful mother have contributed to her anxiety and lack of direction about her future. She’s a model student with a big heart for community service, but her dad has belittled any ambition she ever had in pursuing something she’s interested in. College is a definite, but where should she go, and what should she major in?

But there’s a new guy at school, Cameron McClain, who becomes a fabulous distraction. He is positively swoon-worthy, and not just because he’s a gorgeous romantic who plays the guitar—he’s also thoughtful and respectful. He fits right in with Olivia’s circle of friends: future fashion designer Lyla, photographer Kate, and all-around popular Josh.

As Olivia and Cameron’s relationship deepens, he shows her the acceptance and encouragement she craves which helps her deal with difficult family issues and college decisions. Together, they navigate the exciting, though sometimes confusing, waters of a teen dating relationship that grows into first love.

One of the reason I loved these stories so much is that Olivia honestly reminded me of myself at that time in my life. Graduating high school and watching your friends move away can be seriously stressful, and without the proper support it can be demoralizing. Turning to a boyfriend for all of that emotional support can feel right, but it can also be pretty disastrous. Palmeri pulls off this balancing act with finesse, showing Olivia’s struggle with finding her identity in a family that seems set on pushing her in the wrong direction.

Olivia doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life. All of her friends seem to have everything figured out — everyone but her. Her father wants nothing but for Olivia to go into the same field as him, and he doesn’t try to conceal his disregard for other job fields that he deems unimportant or a waste of money. Her mother, having dealt with her husband’s emotional abuse for many years, has become despondent, often forgetting to pick her daughters up from school as she watches TV in sweatpants. Olivia has taken up the mantel of responsibility, shielding her little sister, Emma, from the worst of her father’s tantrums, but she fears leaving her at home to fend for herself when she eventually goes away to college.

This is a great story, one that I could easily recommend to my young family members. There isn’t anything explicitly sexual, although there is some kissing and cuddling and thinking of those things, especially in the second book. Furthermore, Olivia and Cameron’s relationship is very healthy, emotionally. And when it gets unhealthy for a second — well, you’ll have to read to find out. Olivia is a fantastic protagonist, one you’ll find yourself rooting for as you watch her strive to improve her life time and time again. There are elements of Christianity and reliance on faith, but as a non-religious person this didn’t feel like it was hitting me over the head or being preachy. It was used very nicely, and showed a girl with a different belief system than me practicing her religion mindfully and intelligently.

I would recommend this series to anyone in their tweens, teens, or early twenties who wants a quick, smart fiction focused on healthy relationships and finding your path in life.

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