The Thing About Oliver

Wombat Books
ISBN: 9781925563818
The Book of the Year: Younger Readers 2020 Notable
Tilly lives with her severely autistic brother Oliver and her work-weary mother. Her passion for marine science is signalled early on but her world is turned upside-down when the family moves from a dry rural town to live with an aunt on the tropical coast of Far North Queensland. The setting is vividly evoked through effective description. The change of circumstances creates new tensions for the already challenged family. Tilly is a plausible protagonist whose first-person narration does not slip from reflecting her age and emotion. Young readers will empathise when her mother is unable to take her to swimming lessons, undermining her goal of becoming a marine scientist, and when Oliver destroys her precious ‘aqua journal’. Tilly’s love for her brother never wavers, and the depiction of Oliver’s autistic behaviour is realistic. The story generates significant emotional response while keeping the writing age appropriate. The plot builds to a suspenseful climax when Oliver goes missing. The characteristics of autism are explored skilfully and sensitively, as are the themes of disability, parenting and family relationships.