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Gabe Oliver
Little Toy Car
Gabe Oliver, author
★★★★★ NOW, AN AWARD WINNING STORY! ★★★★★ Follow Gene through this psychological coming of age novel on his journey to discover the meaning of it all, while maneuvering through the unexpected trials of life. From the hardship of a broken home, through the mental struggles of a religious sect. The unexpected twists and turns in this book will command the attention of its readers. The highs and lows of this inspiring story will make it hard to put down. Discover the significance of the LITTLE TOY CAR. "A MUST READ" - Readers' Favorite
Oliver’s debut digs into the coming-of-age of Gene Oliver Dickson, introduced as a five-year-old in Denver in 1997, stealing the toy of the title from his neighbor. This incident triggers a surprising economic downslide that eventually leads Gene and his mother Anita to live in their own not-at-all-a-toy car. Their financial situation improves when his mother marries Jacob Nelson, a religious zealot who brutalizes Gene, who amid all this is discovering himself—and his biological father. Graduating from school, leaving home, and seeing the world, Gene savors his newfound freedom, especially writing and playing music, but also finds himself caught up in what just might be a religious cult.

Told largely in a loosely plotted linear fashion, and handling topics like abuse with sensitivity, Oliver’s story rings true, especially as he explores “how resilient we are as human beings, but at the same time very delicate.” His love for the mountains comes through in his evocative descriptions, while Gene’s emotional distancing from his mother is described with poignant detail. Her silence about Jacob’s brutal ways is heart-rending. Of the many varied characters, two that linger in the mind are Melissa, the perfect parasite, and Harriet, the snobbish, quirky, tantrum-throwing British writer Gene meets in Australia. Both are finely drawn and surprising.

A major plus point of the narrative is the author’s ability to dramatize travel experiences, like a South American road trip, without sounding like a tourist guide book. Atop a volcano in Ecuador: “Dangling our feet from the back of the car, we strummed our ukuleles and sang songs to the night.” Gene’s search for meaning and purpose is engaging, though his discussions with others on these subjects disrupt the telling of the story. The novel explores these questions most effectively through scene, drama, and the lived experience of the protagonist. At its best, this is an engaging, inspiring story.

Takeaway: An inspiring coming-of-age story of resilience and the joy of the road.

Comparable Titles: Amy Jo Burns’s Shiner, Carol Bensimon’s We All Loved Cowboys.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-