The Way the World Is – Book 2 of the ‘Olivia’ series – continues the story of teen pioneer Olivia Killion, who – in the first book of the series, Olivia, Mourning – inherited her father’s land in Michigan and began farming it, together with a black helper who became more than just her business partner.
As fans of Olivia, Mourning will recall, Olivia is headstrong, feisty, and filled with all the confidence and certainty of a seventeen-year-old who thinks she knows what she’s getting into and what the world is all about. In fact nothing could be further from the truth: while her assessment of the realities of black/white relations are spot on and her caution is survival thinking at its best, Olivia simply lacks the experience to make her way through the world without receiving some hard lessons, and The Way the World Is follows this progress and evolution.
Fans of Olivia, Mourning will find this sequel no less engrossing, with its gritty protagonist who is determined to forge her own unique path in life. Fans will also appreciate Olivia’s new challenges, which open here with a bang: a pregnant Olivia is about to give birth, with no idea whether her child will be white or black.
It does turn out that the child is Mourning’s baby – and with that comes a host of new tests – though Olivia is actually thrilled that her baby comes from her gentle, kind friend and not from the white monster who raped her.
As she contemplates her child’s future Olivia must make decisions based on what is best for both of them – and is forced to realize that in a prejudiced world there is no way that the dark-skinned baby of an unmarried white girl will be accepted for anything but what it is: “But there are dark-skinned white people that aren’t colored. Arabs. What about Egyptians? Don’t they have dark skin?” “Maybe a dark-skinned Egyptian ain’t exactly colored, but he sure ain’t white and ain’t gonna be asked to tea in any parlors in Five Rocks. You can’t pass this baby. Not in this world. Don’t even think about it. You’d only break your heart trying. And his.”
Olivia dreams that Mourning will eventually come back and raise his son safely; but now it’s time for a new life for them both. Olivia once again must rebuild her destiny and take charge, making hard decisions and hoping they will benefit everyone.
Though she never abandons her search for the loved ones who have vanished, her new life in Detroit comes with friends and healing and offers an unexpected opportunity to do good by helping fugitive slaves escape across the river. This is something she never would have contemplated, were it not for her friendship and love for Mourning and their child.
The Way the World Is covers a variety of themes: personal growth, change, destiny, responsibility and, ultimately, the costs of love. As Olivia makes her way in life and chooses the paths she takes from a smorgasbord of choices, she slowly realizes the limitations of her worldviews: “She was glad she had when she entered the tidy little town of Backwoods. Sturdy wooden sidewalks lined both sides of its Main Street, shielding brightly painted houses and stores from the mud in the road. The more she saw of the world, the more Olivia realized what a shabby little town she had grown up in.”
And as Olivia grows into a person determined to make a difference in the world, so readers come to appreciate not just the atmosphere and special challenges of her times, but the motivations behind her actions: “His wife is still down south. In slavery. He’s saving up his money to go get her.” Michelle sucked her front teeth and then held Olivia’s gaze and said, “I already know what you’re thinking. But you can’t buy all the slaves in the south.” “I know I can’t. But there’s not a single reason I can’t help buy this one.”
Thanks to her relationship with Mourning, Olivia’s search for the way she wants to live expands to include saving those pieces of the world she can touch and affect. And thanks to her wider-ranging decisions, she finds her way to an unexpected life, filled with genuine friendships and new possibilities.
In a way Olivia’s journey is the route of many in life. She begins with courage and determination and a naïveté about the world that is changed by encounters both positive and negative – but she remains steadfast, determined, and strong-willed. When her world (and preconceptions) fall apart, she rebuilds it to be stronger than ever – and with new purpose.
Perhaps the most powerful passage of all sums up in a nutshell what motivates Olivia to keep hope and determination alive, even in the face of despair: “As long as we draw breath, nothing in this life is final.”
Some books stand alone and require no prior familiarity with others in their series … but don’t miss Olivia, Mourning. It sets the stage for an ongoing saga rich in detail, history, and perspective. Together, the two books offer a powerful saga that makes for thoroughly engrossing, compelling historical fiction at its best.
– D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, MBR
See the review in the February 2014 issue. (Select Donovan’s Bookshelf and then scroll down)