The Boy in the Olive Grove by Fleur Beale

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.

Fleur Beale talks about I Am Not Esther

I Am Not Esther is a New Zealand classic and Fleur Beale is one of New Zealand’s best authors for children and young adults.  It has been in print for 14 years and is as popular today as it was when it was first printed.  Random House New Zealand are celebrating Fleur’s amazing story by reissuing it with a great new cover.  I asked Fleur if she would like to write a post for me about I Am Not Esther as part of NZ Book Month, so here are her thoughts.


I’ll always remember a phone call I got about a fortnight after the book was first published. The woman on the phone was so excited her words were tumbling over each other. She said I’d written her story and now at last she was able to say to friends and family, ‘Read this, and then you’ll understand.’

People are often surprised to hear that the original idea for the story came from a real incident where a sixteen year old boy was thrown out of home and declared dead simply because he refused to leave school in his final year.

Readers relate strongly to the situation of a person being forced to think, behave and live in a strictly prescribed manner. This isn’t the way we do things in today’s world, yet it is the situation many children are still brought up in.
In a way, Kirby is an orphan and I think stories about young people who are alone and have to battle against the world for their very survival speak to something primal within us.

Heart of Danger by Fleur Beale

We were first introduced to Juno and the people of Taris in Juno of Taris, what would become the first in a trilogy.  I picked up Juno of Taris on a recommendation of another children’s librarian that I worked with and was blown away by the community that Fleur Beale had created.  For those of you who haven’t read the first book, it’s best to start at the beginning, but one of the great things about the subsequent books in the trilogy is that you get a summary of the story so far before you start.  I don’t know if this was an idea of the publisher, Random House New Zealand, or Fleur herself, but I think it’s something that all trilogies/series should have, especially when the books come out a year apart.

Heart of Danger starts off exactly where Fierce September ended, with Juno and her family arriving at their new home.  It’s not long before Juno’s sister, Hera senses danger and they decide to move back to New Plymouth and Fairlands School, where they have the protection of Willem.  Juno is reluctant to move back to Fairlands, where Hilto’s son, Thomas goes to school.  There’s also the handsome Ivor, whose advances make Juno uncomfortable.  Her feelings for Ivor are confusing and she’s not sure how to deal with them on the outside world.  When Hera is taken by mysterious strangers who mean to do her harm, Juno must use her special mind powers to help her save her sister.  But will this be enough to save them both from the Children of the Coming Dawn?

Heart of Danger is the perfect conclusion to this brilliant trilogy.  There is a sense of impending doom from the opening chapter which builds to a thrilling climax, but there are also alot of questions answered about the establishment of Taris, the extent of Juno’s powers, and Juno’s biological family.  The climax of the story comes just over halfway through the book and I was wondering how it would finish, but it left plenty of time for Fleur Beale to wrap up the story of the people of Taris and end on a positive note.  I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Juno has developed over the series and how the people of Taris have adapted to the outside world.  I loved how they all managed to hold onto little aspects of life on Taris, while becoming citizens of Aotearoa.  I know I’ll miss Juno, her family and her friends, but I’ll enjoy starting from the beginning again and taking that journey with them once more.  In the mean time, I’ll go to to read Nash’s Story, an extra short story that Fleur Beale has written, to be read after Heart of Danger.

Recommended for 12+    10 out of 10