Olivia's first term: Stage school by Lyn Gardner
Nosy Crow, 2011. ISBN 9780857630162.
(Age 11+) Recommended. Olivia and her younger sister Alicia, who is known as Eel, are free spirits. Their childhood so far has been spent as members of a circus family. Their father Jack is a famous highwire walker, and Olivia joins him in the performance. Tragedy had struck several years earlier when the girls mother died in an accident, and tragedy strikes again when Jack is injured. Jack's only option is to place the girls with their maternal grandmother - a woman who blames him for taking her only daughter away. Olivia and Eel discover their grandmother runs a well known and highly regarded performance school called Swan Academy. While Eel embraces the school and all it has to offer, Olivia pines for her old life and her father.
Olivia's first term is a delightful story with believeable characters. Olivia's strong personality is displayed in various situations, and her angst at being away from her father is clearly presented. The secondary characters have been fleshed out enough for the reader to feel a connection with them. There is the 'typical' group of characters which are often found in books aimed for this market. The mean girl is a bully and a showoff, but because of her good looks and wealth is fawned over by the other students. Gardner also has the poor but talented girl trying hard to fit in, and willing to do almost anything to achieve popularity. Olivia's first term explores the issues of family, loss, harrassment, bullying and ostracism. This book would appeal to upper primary students, although Gardner at times uses quite sophisticated language, which may mean it was intended for an older age group.