Olivia Kidney and the Secret Beneath the City -- Ellen Potter
Why oh why didn't Peter H. Reynolds do the cover art for the new Olivia Kidney book? Is it because Olivia is growing up*? Was it decided that his cover art looks too young? Are they going for a New Look? Did PHR have too much on his plate?
Whatever the reason, I'm against the change. I do appreciate the fact that Olivia is wearing Ruben's hat (which suggests that the artist was actually familiar with the book, hooray), but I still prefer the Reynolds covers. They're so much more lively and vibrant.
Olivia and her father are still living at the Exit Academy** (though her father still doesn't know it's an Exit Academy -- or that Olivia can see/communicate with ghosts), and while she isn't at the same school as Ruben, she does get to see him in the afternoon and on weekends. Mostly, her life is hectic but somewhat normal (or as normal it gets): The Princepessa Christian Lilli is gearing up for her wedding and Frannie is looking for a way to grow so that people will stop mistaking her for a seven-year-old.
But, of course, there's new stuff happening, too. She's about to begin the year at yet another school:
All the seats on the train were taken, so she clung to a pole in the center, trying not to whack people with her knapsack. It wasn't easy, since her backpack was stuffed so full that it looked like her spine was nine months pregnant. That in itself was just wrong, Olivia thought. Regular schools didn't make you carry that much junk on the first day of classes. All over the city, kids were carrying droopy, deflated backpacks, but because she was going to a special school, Olivia had to haul hers around like a pack mule.
Attending the Malcolm Flavius School for the Arts had not been her idea.
And her mother is back in town, dressed as an insect and determined -- among other things -- to have some quality "girl time" with Olivia.
I adore Olivia. She's smart (more people-smart than book-smart) and sassy, and more than anything else (and this is the best part, really), she's Olivia Kidney. She's an original. I want to be her friend.
I did feel like there were too much going on in this one. It felt like some of plotlines were just sketched in there, and if they'd been cut, the others could have been fleshed out a bit more. The title was a little misleading, as the Secret Beneath the City plotline only kicked in in the last quarter of the book. Regardless of that, though, I enjoyed it hugely -- because, as I said, I love Olivia.
I'd recommend the series (it's best if you start from the beginning) to fans of the well-written and offbeat Polly Horvath.
Side note: We're going to have to compile a list of Secrets of the Underground books, no?
*There are moments in The Secret Beneath the City that feel downright Judy Blume-ish.
**As explained in the previous book.