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Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen: Donna Gephart

Book: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen
Author: Donna Gephart
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8 and up 

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is a middle grade novel about divorce, family, and trivia. Olivia (aka Livi) is a middle schooler who is obsessed with the game show Jeopardy!. But while Livi knows a lot of facts, she's fairly clueless about the motivations of people, particularly her absent father, her mother's boyfriend, and the boy next door, Tucker. Throughout the book, as Livi pursues her life-long (all 12 years) dream of being on Jeopardy! Kids Week, she gradually learns who is, and who isn't, in her corner. 

I must first comment on a couple of plot points. I love that the mother's live-in boyfriend is a good parent. This book is miles away from all of the books that stereotype the deadbeat live-in boyfriend who the children hate. Oh, Livi still hates Neil. But it becomes gradually clear to the reader (and eventually to Livi) that she's wrong. Bonus points for Neil being a librarian. 

I also like that Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen takes a realistic, but not scary, look at parental job loss, and the ways that this creates stress and hardship in a family.  

I like Olivia, too. She's a smart kid who doesn't fit in very well with the other kids at school, and mostly takes that in stride. She is utterly consumed by her passion for trivia. But she does gain a bit of insight throughout the book regarding her own self-absorption, slowly and believably. Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"Mom gives my shoulders another squeeze and tilts her head toward Neil, which probably means Forgive my daughter's rudeness. Mom makes that gesture a lot." (Page 15)

"I take a spoonful of warm brownie and smile at the memory of those big, moldy-smelling books from Mom and Dad's shelf in their bedroom. I loved looking at the pictures, and the way the entries were arranged from "A" to "Z." Those books had what seemed like an endless supply of facts about everything from aardvarks to zydeco music." (Page 18)

I also found the occasional interactions conveyed between Olivia's younger brother and mother to be quite accurate in regards to talking with a preschooler. Like this:

"You'll make it," Charlie shouts from his bedroom.

"Charlie!" Mom yells.

"I'm in bed,"

"And be quiet," Mom calls.

"I am being quiet!" he screams.

Mom sighs.

Neil shakes his head, but smiles.

Neil's beginning to grow on me, and not in the way mold grows on a shower curtain." (Page 146)

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen feels a bit like Odessa Again by Dana Reinhardt, which I just reviewed. Both feature a girl dealing with her parents' divorce, and her pesky younger brother, against a backdrop of something else. Although Olivia's "something else" isn't technically a fantasy (like Odessa's time-jumping), there is an element of wish fulfillment to the whole attempt to get on Jeopardy!. Both books are quick, engaging reads, suitable for younger middle grade readers, but with some emotional depth to them. 

There's plenty to love in Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen for kids who enjoy trivia, boys and girls. Livi's younger brother favors "gross trivia", and is constantly spouting out disgusting facts like the number of pores in one's armpits. Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen could be a good bridge book to draw kids who like reading fact books into reading fiction.  

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is fun stuff with heart, and well worth a read. Recommended for boys or girls, age 8 and up. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

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