Olive is the only child of Mog Garnaut, a successful attorney whose energy, beauty and moxie are legendary, but who lacks traditional housekeeping skills, not to mention time to spend with Olive. It’s not that she’s unloving or unaffectionate – the reverse, in spades – but her job keeps her very busy.
Olive is a pale, small 12-year-old with long, pale braids (plaits, in Australian – and in fact the book brims with intriguing Australian terms such as mozzies, tuck shops, and the always startling rubbers). When her friend Mathilda, with whom she doesn’t have much in common but whose oh-so-normal life and mother Olive envies, ditches Olive for super-wench Amelia, Olive is thrown into turmoil. Suddenly school, never exactly fun, becomes a nightmare as Olive becomes a social disease overnight.
Right about then, the mysterious Pip enters her life. Pip looks like Olive’s twin – literally – but is much sassier, wilder, and more daring. Readers will soon notice, or at least I did, that no one seems to talk to Pip or even notice her, and yet her presence has a big impact on Olive, who refers to her as her sister. Together, they decide to search for their long-lost father, about whom they know (because Mog will say) almost nothing.
Pip is rather a mysterious presence and yet her spunky earthiness has an effect on Olive that allows her to finally stand up for herself, to her schoolmates and even to her mom. Readers will buy this, but what remain unanswered are the questions of where Pip came from – and why. The last short chapter seems to indicate that Pip had a real existence – outside of Olive’s own imagination and fancy, that is, but still – why did she come to Olive? Did Olive, in her great need for both a friend and some gumption, somehow conjure her up out of nowhere, or was Pip some sort of being, a good fairy, who sensed her need and came to help? Or none of the above? Although I do have to see the title as a sort of clue – Pip seems to have been Olive’s alter ego, the risk-taking part of her.
I didn’t worry about these issues overmuch while reading this book. Despite Olive’s apparent naiveté, the tone of the narration is rather witty and occasionally makes rather knowing jokes, often at the expense of Olive herself but mostly at the Amelias and Mrs. Grahams (Mathilda’s formidable mother) of the world. Mean girls are lost causes but nerdy loners often have hidden depths – something I could have told Olive but that she has to discover for herself (she knew she was skating on the edge of unpopularity but didn’t ever think of herself as in the same class as, say, the girl everyone knows only as Nut Allergy).
Recommended for its intriguing quirkiness and Australian slang to kids grades 5 – 7.