Twelve-year-old homeschooled Olive is tired of being seen as “fragile” just because she has osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease), so she’s thrilled when she finally convinces her parents to let her attend Macklemore Elementary. Olive can’t wait to go to a traditional school and make the friends she’s always longed for until a disastrous first day dashes her hopes of ever fitting in.
Then Olive hears whispers about a magical, wish-granting hummingbird that supposedly lives near Macklemore. It’ll be the solution to all her problems! If she can find the bird and prove herself worthy, the creature will make her most desperate secret wish come true.
When it becomes clear that she can’t solve the mystery on her own, Olive teams up with some unlikely allies who help her learn the truth about the bird. And on the way, she just might learn that our fragile places lead us to the most wonderful magic of all.
I’m happy to be seeing more middle-grade novels where the main protagonist uses a wheelchair. I’m even more thrilled to find a story featuring a disability that I’ve never read about before. Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. I’ve read many books about people with a disability that makes their lives difficult but manageable. Even after reading Olive’s story, living with a genetic disease that causes your bones to break easily still sounds pretty terrifying.
Most middle-grade novels follow the same trope where the main protagonist struggles with their self-identity or not liking who they are, yet by the end of the story, they learn how to be happy with who they are. Olive’s journey is a bit different.
Unlike most tween-aged protagonists, Olive starts off optimistic and full of self-confidence. She has a sparkling personality with a wardrobe to match. She’s accepted her life with brittle bones because curing her OI has never been an option. It’s not until she goes to Macklemore Elementary that she starts wanting to be ‘normal.’ Nothing destroys your self-worth quite like public school.
When she learns about the wish-granting hummingbird, she sees her chance to ‘fix’ her ‘broken’ body, to look and be treated like everyone else. It’s totally justified that Olive would want to wish for strong, healthy bones. To not have to live with the fear that she could break a bone and be in agonizing pain at any moment, no matter how careful she is. She feels so guilty for wanting to change something about herself, but she shouldn’t be ashamed for wanting to wish away the pain. Wanting to be normal is dumb. Normality is relative. Wanting to have strong bones that don’t break easily. That’s reasonable.
The magical realism of the story is a bit far-fetched. I’m not talking about the wish-granting hummingbird. I’m talking about how the castle-like school has a sloth and a llama as therapy animals but doesn’t have a ramp to get onto the stage! I find that very hard to believe.
The one character that really got me steamed was the theater teacher. This woman immediately starts talking down to Olive, and her friendliness comes off as phony. But worse of all, she had the audacity to suggest casting her as a tree. A TREE?! I know when it comes to school plays, some kids are forced to play inanimate objects because there are too many kids and not enough roles to play. But in Olive’s case, this felt like a slap in the face.
As a small bonus, here are a few of the many amazing quotes from this story:
“No life should be a whisper. You’re not a miracle because you have brittle bones or because you use a wheelchair or walker. You’re not a miracle if you don’t. You’re a miracle because you exist. Everybody is.”
“I like people who aren’t afraid to sparkle. Life’s too short to blend in, right? You gotta do you.”
“A disabled girl can be weird and fun and cool and make mistakes. She doesn’t have to be everybody’s shining inspiration. But she can fall in love and have adventures and just live her life. Especially if all she needs is a freaking ramp.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, trying to wish away the painful parts. I think everybody does it. Doesn’t mean you don’t like yourself as you are, or you’re not grateful for your life.”
I could say more about this story, but I’ve gone on long enough. All in all, this is a magical story with an ending that I wasn’t expecting and warmed my heart.