From the back cover: Through the life and death of her grandfather, 12-year-old Oli receives a pouch that holds the lives of abandoned, but unique coins, coins adopted by her grandfather—and now hers. Bearing their mint inscription, In God We Trust, Oli’s coins entrust their lives with hers as she searches for the matters of the heart.
Despite the tensions with her controlling, and egotistical father, she manages to venture on an exploration of her own, and what she discovers are people that her father scorns. Oli’s explorations lead to life-changing lessons, and her most profound discovery is that some things in life have greater value than they’re worth.
Oli’s beloved grandpa, who she called Geepa, had passed away only two weeks earlier. His was a sudden, unexpected death. Geepa always carried a coin pouch in the vest pocket of his shirt. Just prior to his death, Geepa gave the pouch to his beloved granddaughter, Oli. She has no idea what Geepa has in the pouch, only that it was immensely important to him.
Oli’s father, a rich man who values everything by their material worth, thought his father eccentric at best. He hated seeing his father carrying the pouch. Oli’s dad often felt Geepa, his dad, treasured the coin pouch more than his family. Dad felt neglected; oddly, now he neglects his own child. When Oli appears with the pouch dad is not pleased. Actually, it seems to infuriate him.
Most Saturdays, Geepa took Oli to CardBoard City where he had set up a charity to feed the poor and hungry. Geepa had one of his many grocery stores pack up food and deliver it to CardBoard City. Oli loved these trips and the people she met. Taking the bus to get there was another emotion—fear. Oli feared the bus driver with a scar across his face, ear-to-ear. To Oli he looked dangerous and she feared he would harm them. Even though Geepa talked to the man and slapped his back as if they were great friends, Oli continued to fear the man.
The pouch contained coins, everyday ordinary coins, mostly found by Geepa on the floor or ground. Oli understood their true value, just as her grandfather had. One day, with mom gone, Dad decides it is time those coins found a proper home—in his bank, where they can earn interest. He forces Oli to go with him, but she stalls in the car. Suddenly she bolts in an attempt to keep the pouch and its contents, and an oncoming bus hits her.
Oli’s Uncommon Cents is an original story with interesting characters, a few delightful twists, and much heart. This is a story unlike anything else written for the middle grades. The author has done a wonderful job telling us her imaginative, well-written generational tale. The characters come alive under the author’s skillful pen. Readers will find them easy to love, hate, or misunderstand, and each is exactly what the author wants you to feel.
Interspersed are black and white line drawings of different characters. Geepa looks exactly as I had pictured him. The only illustration I do not like is the one of Oli sitting cross-legged. Her waist looks like someone squeezed her tightly and everything moved upwards, reminding me of a tube of toothpaste. All the other illustrations are spot on.
I liked Oli’s Uncommon Cents because the characters came alive. Geepa, unfortunately, I did not get to know as well as I would have liked. Oli is a quiet tomboy who dearly loves her grandfather and her mother, but has mixed feelings about her controlling father. The tension is thick between the two and it is palatable whenever they are together. I enjoyed Oli’s mother’s growth and the twists in character perception each has about another character. More than just the protagonist changes by the end. Though this is a relatively short story at a mere 138 pages, the characters are complex. They will stick with you long after the last page is turned.
Oli’s Uncommon Cents is enjoyable cover to cover. It is short enough to read in one or two readings, yet long enough to tell a most engrossing story. I would not pass this one up. Middle grade teachers can find many wonderful lessons inside of Oli’s Uncommon Cents. Some of those lessons could cover self-esteem, respect, generational differences, family relationships, divorce, and loyalty to name a few. I think the kids would simply enjoy the story, the humor, and the, sometimes, crazy characters.
This is the debut children’s story for Ms. Allen. She writes with an original voice that is strong, engaging, and determined. There is not a wasted word in this most original plot. This is an author to keep tabs on. Ms. Allen has only begun to sweep us up into her world. Oli’s story will continue as a series called Oli’s Cents. You can read more about Ms. Allen in the interview she did here at Kid Lit yesterday. Click HERE for the interview. For the May Giveaway from Deborah Allen, click HERE.
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Author: Deborah Allen website Illustrator: Sophie Mattinson website Publisher: Xulon Press website Publication Date: March 13, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-61996-610-9 Number of Pages: 138 Ages: 8 – 12+