I freaked out about the release of the third Olivia Kidney book recently. And I've been thinking about it since then.
The first book, for instance: You can't simply put it on a fantasy booklist, or on a Trials & Tribulations of Being Twelve booklist, a New Kid at School booklist, a quirky books list, a booklist of stories about loss, or a ghost story booklist. Technically, yes. The book could go on any of those lists -- but it would be a huge simplification -- Olivia Kidney is so much more than that.
Olivia Kidney has just moved into yet another apartment building. Her father is an apartment super, and while he tries really hard, he just isn't very good at his job. He gets fired, they move, he messes up the new building, and the cycle begins anew.
Due to a lost set of keys, Olivia finds herself locked out of her apartment. She spends that afternoon wandering her new home, meeting her neighbors -- and what neighbors they are! One woman has a one-way glass floor and spends her day spying on her downstairs neighbor. One woman vacuums the air. One apartment is like a rainforest, populated by hundreds of lizards, a woman who plays the conch shell and a man with huge black rubber gloves. And then there are the Biffmeyers.
If I had to be nailed down, I'd maybe try to describe the first book as a mostly non-spooky, extremely quirky Coraline. At times, it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. A modern Alice, of course, and a version of Wonderland that is set entirely in an apartment building, but it's similar in that Olivia explores her new home, meets lots of strange characters, hears lots of strange stories, and like Alice, isn't particularly bothered by the illogical nature of what she sees and hears.
In terms of recommendations -- well, I'd definitely try them on younger fans of the Gilda Joyce books. Like Gilda, Olivia is cranky:
Olivia sat down on the low barrier and resumed the search for her keys. On the street in front of her a large group of children was playing freeze tag, a perfect game for the day's weather. They were screaming and laughing. One skinny, freckled girl was sitting on the concrete bench watching, bundled in a coat that was too large for her, and screaming with them. They probably all lived in the building. They probably all had keys. Olivia hated them.
Also like Gilda, Olivia has suffered a loss, and she has a preoccupation with the afterlife.
Heck, now that I've really thought about it, I'd try 'em on young readers who I merely suspect will like the Gilda Joyce books. And I'd definitely recommend the books to Polly Horvath fans.
But while it's easy to find similarities in other books, Olivia Kidney is still very much an original.
But when Olivia asked the Princepessa if it was she who had slipped the note under the door, the Princepessa had snapped, "I do not slip notes under doors. It stirs up all the dust on the floor. And besides, it's the act of a coward!"
"I was just asking," Olivia shot back.
"And what if I 'just asked' you if you were a Philistine?"
"I wouldn't know what you were talking about," Olivia replied.
"Then we understand each other," the Princepessa said. "Now come inside and we'll play a round of pinochle."
"I don't know how."
"Even better. We'll play for money."
I don't understand how anyone could resist a passage like that.
Judging from the recent change in cover art -- and the renaming of the second book (it went from Olivia Kidney and the Exit Academy to Olivia Kidney Stops for No One) -- it seems that:
A) The books haven't found the audience that they so rightly deserve and
B) Penguin isn't quite sure how to market them.
Cripes, if you're going to change a title, change the third one -- I know that people look at that and think, "Kiki Strike rip-off", even though, of course, it's nothing like Kiki Strike. Sorry. This is devolving into obnoxious backseat publishing.
But I wouldn't be blathering if I didn't care a whole lot about these books.
Obviously, those are all just guesses on my part, but it's always a bad sign when television execs start moving shows to different times and demanding revamps and whatnot -- just think of poor, poor Arrested Development*. This could be the literary equivalent of what happened to our beloved Bluth clan. So, to readers, I freaking beg you -- give these books a chance. At the very, very super extreme least, read the first one.
And to Penguin, please, please, pleasepleaseplease -- bring back Peter H. Reynolds. His covers -- especially the first one, which I personally think is more perfect than perfect, cover art that made me snatch the book off the shelf the very first time I saw it -- his covers are so much more engaging and energetic and exciting than the new, flat, boring (and honestly? they look self-published) ones.
*Though they really made the best of it, didn't they? The Burger King episode? Genius.
Bookshelves of Doom: the Olivia Kidney series by Ellen Potter
A Fuse #8 Production: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry
Miss Erin: Girl With a Pen and Princess of Orange by Elisabeth Kyle