Little Gods by Jenny Ackland
Olive Lovelock is curious, independent, and beguiling. She is growing up between her parents’ home in a small town in the Mallee and her cousins’ farm, a (long) bike ride away. For Olive, Grade 6 is becoming less enjoyable by the day – there are rivalries, tensions, and troubling assumptions – but the summer holidays are coming, and she has her best friend, Peter, and three cousins for company and adventures. There is also the joy of their rescue ‘Australian raven’/crow, Grace.
Olive’s family is close – her mother and aunt married two of the three Lovelock brothers; her third aunt, Thistle, lives with the other; and the remaining Lovelock brother is a frequent visitor to the farm. Yet despite their deeply interconnected lives, the adults don’t seem to share important things with Olive – except Thistle, but Olive is learning that while Thistle is often the only person who will tell the truth in full, she can also be unreliable.
When Luke Sands, a bully from a notorious local family, tells Olive that she had a baby sister who died, Olive is almost consumed by her determination to find out what happened and avenge the death of her sister. This is not, however, a young adult detective story. Rather, it is the tale of Olive’s search for identity in her transition to adulthood, and of her growing awareness that the world is not as simple as it once seemed.
Tragedy has visited this family more than once, and throughout the novel it’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that it will visit again. These past misfortunes are varied, layered, and revealed incrementally as the reader is absorbed in Olive’s mission. Jenny Ackland has brought a recognisable world to the page and her characters are realised with empathy and catch at the heart.