Already set to be the literary community’s latest darling (Eat.Pray.Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert has given it glowing reviews!), Olive is like a refreshing mint julep on a hot summer day. Easy to jump into the story, easy to become attached to these women’s special friendship, and easy to feel Olive’s predicaments with her life stage as strongly as she does. Although there were many times I disagreed with Olive’s reactions to the people in her life and at times felt she was self-obsessed and unable to truly visualize her friends’ positions, I nonetheless enjoyed the story of a different perspective: a child-free woman.
Olive, a thirty-two-year-old feminist magazine exec finds her life—up until this point predictable and on track with her life vision—at a standstill when her boyfriend of nine years dumps her. The reason? He wanted kids, and she didn’t.
Caught in the middle of a tightknit friend group that’s suddenly growing up, with each girlfriend increasingly having or wanting kids, Olive suddenly has to reconcile the fact that she’s never given serious thought to not wanting children, and that she can’t will herself to want them, no matter how hard she tries. As her friendships begin to strain and her sense of contentment and direction start to dwindle, Olive realizes she’s got to decide—what if her version of her dream life doesn’t look like everyone else’s? And is she strong enough to live with it?
From the very beginning, Olive is written to grip your attention. We meet Olive at the beginning of her breakup, reeling from the sudden rupture and metaphorically internally bleeding, needing the attentive care of her girlfriends. By the time the story ends, however, Olive is a completely different person—confident, assured, and stronger for it. What happens between these two extremes is the bulk of the story.
My favorite aspect of this read was the beautiful character development through the arc. This isn’t one of those unsatisfying, waste-of-time reads where the main character stays exactly who they were at the beginning, having learned nothing. Olive grows and develops in such a nuanced, realistic, and almost imperceptible way; it’s almost as if every day we’re with her she heals and develops stronger layers without us taking note until the very end.
Additionally—the storyline is believable. It feels real, and the everyday romance of a group of friends wrestling with the unexpected challenge of realizing life stage—and life choice differences—has an uncanny way of messing with the strongest of friendships. The storyline is in no way slow—in fact, towards the end, I felt as if the author was trying to wrap up and leave a cleanly packaged end. Reading feels like you’re moving at the speed of every day with each character.
A major qualm I had with our titular character was her degree of self-obsession. It was as if the rejection of childbearing had taken over Olive’s ability to realize her societal privilege and all the good things in her life, from her incredible job to her easy access to travel and adventure. This, plus the fact that the vast majority of people in her life had already repeatedly demonstrated an understanding and acceptance of her choice to be child-free. In reality, the only person that seemed to have an issue with her choice to be child-free was her. She seemed to be consistently justifying to other people (when actually speaking to herself) why her choice made sense.
Olive has a lot to say and spotlights a desperately-needed perspective on women’s fiction. I only wish the self-obsession Olive perpetually displayed wasn’t so pronounced, as it felt like it represented all child-free women that way, which we know is not at all the case.
Love It or Leave It?
I highly recommend this read you want an intimate look at the life and mind of a woman who decides she doesn’t want children. Particularly if wanting children has been a natural, no-brainer choice for you, I believe it behooves you to learn from a divergent perspective. Reading Olive’s story created greater empathy, understanding, and support for child-free women and couples for me, and it’s so important in our ability to be able to accept others’ locality—or our multitude of different identities. Olive tackles complex issues such as the role of women outside societal stereotypes, sociocultural implications of choosing to be child-free, and comparison in life stages all with grace, humor, and entertainment.