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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen* by Donna Gephart - middle grades book review
Also by Donna Gephart:

How to Survive Middle School

Also illustrated by Linda Schenck:

A Faraway Island
Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen
by Donna Gephart
Ages 8-12 288 pages Delacorte March 2012 Hardcover    

Donna Gephart’s new novel, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, is a fantastic addition to contemporary fiction aimed at preteen girls.

The author deftly weaves family problems and school problems into a very fun competition for the TV game show Jeopardy! At first the reader may wonder if this book is a sequel; we read hints of events that happened before the story takes place. It is not. How we learn about what happened in the past is what keeps us reading, combined with how Olivia moves toward the future and the fun of competing for a spot on Jeopardy!

Olivia lives with her divorced mother, her five-year-old brother, and their mother’s boyfriend, Neil, in a townhouse in New York. As the story begins, Olivia is preoccupied with missing her father, who has moved to California. She resents Neil and is anxious about school, especially Geography—the one subject in which her father has always told her that she is no good.

As the story progresses, Olivia calls her father on the phone but is brushed off. He always has something more important to pay attention to—mostly gambling. He forgets to call on Wednesdays, even forgets about them at Christmas. Meanwhile, Olivia’s mother loses her job and falls into depression.

At the same time, Olivia is struggling with her neighbor, a boy in her class who always makes fun of her for being the 5th-grade hula hoop champion. Now he is trying to be nice and helping with Geography.

When Olivia learns that she will have a chance to be on the kids’ week on Jeopardy!, her whole family—including Neil but not her father—and her neighbor pull together to help her prepare. In a bittersweet ending, Olivia finds herself more self-confident than ever, appreciating all that she has rather than dwelling upon what she has lost.

Extremely well-written, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen is a quick read with short chapters, plenty of action, and always a question propelling the reader to continue. It is a terrific basic book to exemplify elementary foreshadowing and teach inference skills.

All characters, especially Olivia, are well-rounded, realistic and develop as the story progresses. The game show theme keeps the tone light-hearted, while the real life problems of gambling, divorce, and job loss keep it grounded in reality. Highly recommended.
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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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