Fleur Beale has written some great novels, both for children and young adults. My favourite books of hers are the award-winning Juno of Taris series. Fleur’s latest book, The Boy in the Olive Grove, is a about a girl living in present day New Zealand, whose past lives resurface and turn her life upside down.
On the night of her seventeenth birthday Bess Grey sees images of a witch-burning unfold in front of her as if in a movie. She also sees images from a different time — lovers, and the girl, she’s sure is — was – herself. When she meets Nick she recognises him as the boy. There’s an immediate connection. However when her father nearly dies from a heart attack there’s no time to brood as Bess tries to save her father’s business. She falls in love with Nick but her difficult mother interferes, forcing Bess to make the hardest decision of her life. She must decide whether to lose her mother or the boy she loves.
The Boy in the Olive Grove is a really unique story about a girl who is navigating the minefield of her family life, while trying to deal with the lives she has lived in the past. In the present Bess has a horrible mother who doesn’t seem to care for her at all, a protective brother who has just up and left her, a father who is ill, and a step-mother who she feels awkward around. When she has a visions of herself burning a witch at the stake and of a mysterious boy who she has strong feelings for, she gets drunk and nearly kills herself on the road. This only seems to be the beginning of her troubles, as she gets expelled from her boarding school and sent home to live with her mother. Her dad falls ill and Bess gets left to look after his struggling furniture business. She continues to have the visions and her step-mother sends her to a psychiatrist who helps her to understand these and come to terms with what they mean.
I found the story quite unusual (it’s quite different in a way from Fleur Beale’s previous books), but the more I read, the more intrigued I became and wanted to find out how it would end. Fleur Beale always gets inside her characters heads so we know everything that they’re thinking and feeling. Bess has so much to deal with, from her visions, to taking over her father’s business, and dealing with her horrible mother, but she deals with everything extremely well. I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle all that at her age! I love the relationship that Bess has with the men that work for her dad. After some initial skepticism they warm to her and she helps to boost their confidence. I love the way they call her ‘boss.’
The only thing I didn’t really like about the story was the scheming, vindictive bitch that was Bess’ mum. I don’t think I’ve met a character that I’ve hated quite so much as her, and she didn’t seem to have any redeeming characteristics. I’d really like to know if there are mothers out there that are really like her, because I couldn’t quite imagine a mother that could be as cruel and uncaring as she was.
If you like contemporary Young Adult fiction that stands out from the crowd, The Boy in the Olive Grove, get a copy now. If you’re a fan of Fleur Beale then this is one not to be missed.
4 out of 5 stars
You can read an extract of The Boy in the Olive Grove on the Random House New Zealand website.