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Budge Wilson.
Toronto, ON: Stoddart, 1992.
103pp., paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-7737-5508-X. Irwin Junior Fiction. CIP.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14

Reviewed by Bobbie Henley.

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

Budge Wilson has written several other books for young adults and has won more than one award for her writing.

Oliver's Wars is a beautiful story. It is the story of a young boy who is struggling to come to terms with many changes in his life - his dad's absence, the move of his family, an unfamiliar town, and a new school. At the same time, Oliver is dealing internally with his own identity, and his growth towards understanding himself and others.

On the surface, Oliver appears to be quiet and confident, with everything under control. That's because his mom and his twin brother Jerry insist on seeing him that way. But underneath, Oliver is upset. He is having a tremendously difficult time dealing with his father going to the Gulf War. He not only misses his dad but, as does the rest of the family, he also worries about his dad's safety.

While trying to sort out his conflict, Oliver comes face to face with some other problems. First of all, he, his mom and his brother are living with his grandparents, and his grandparents don't seem too happy about this. His grandpa is angry most of the time, and Oliver sees his mom in a different role when she tries to settle the differences between them. Secondly, because of Oliver's quiet demeanour and inaptitude at sports, both the school bully and the Physical Education teacher turn against him and make his life miserable. Things happen that are out of his control and Oliver must deal with these set-backs. The narrative of Oliver's Wars flows easily. Readers are swept up into the story quickly, as most young people can identify with being misunderstood and being seen by others to be someone they're not. Many of us struggle to put our feelings into words, and Oliver teaches us the value of patience in his attempts.

Many young readers who have siblings are compared at some point and for some reason to those brothers or sisters who handle situations differently than we do or who have talents we wish we had. Oliver and his twin Jerry are no exception. They are very different, both physically and emotionally, and these differences add an interesting touch to the story.

The setting of Oliver's Wars provides a unique back-drop to the story. Halifax is not only a city which has a past that frightens Oliver, it is also the extreme opposite of Moose Jaw, with its peculiar coloured houses, heavy mist, and endless trees. Oliver, however, manages to find a certain comfort in the vast expanse of water, as it reminds him of the endless flat landscape of his home.

The most appealing aspect of the story is Oliver himself. He is a character with whom one empathizes and rejoices in the end, as situations finally turn around for him, not by accident, but because of his own insight and determination.

Oliver's Wars will appeal to a variety of young readers. The reading level, the size of print and the subject matter are such that students from grades 4 to 9 will enjoy it.

Bobbie Henley is a librarian at Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School in Brantford, ON.
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