Thursday, February 20, 2014

WWRW: Olivia and the Little Way

I told you in a previous WWRW post that I was reading Olivia and the Little Way, and that I would try to get a review done as soon as possible.  Well, here it is!  (I don't know why it took me so long to read this extraordinary Catholic novel (one that's targeted at the pre-teen audience, but is really for readers of any age, if you ask me), but I'm sure glad I finally did.  I can't recommend it highly enough!
If only Nancy Carabio Belanger’s award-winning novel for young readers, Olivia and the Little Way, had been available to me when I was in middle school or junior high—how I would have benefited from the beautiful messages that are woven into each and every page!  During those sometimes awful formative years, when so many of the influences on young people are not exactly good ones, it would have been incredibly beneficial for me to read about Olivia Thomas’ introduction to and growing friendship with one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church: St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the “Little Flower,” the beloved saint who taught the “Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.”

As a young girl, I remember vividly wanting to be good (and of course failing routinely, as we all do); but I don’t remember going about the business of my daily life with the specific goal of becoming a saint always in the forefront of my mind.  I suppose I sometimes felt as St. Therese herself felt: “when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by.”  Well let me tell you, Belanger’s outstanding book definitely reminds the reader of the all-important goal of achieving sainthood; but it also reminds her that one need not go through life’s trials alone, because there are friends in Heaven to whom she can turn for help.  And one of these powerful friends is dear St. Therese, who herself felt she had “to look for some means of going to Heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight.”

The novel’s heroine Olivia Thomas is the oldest child in a Catholic family, with two younger siblings.  Her family is getting ready to move from Texas, where she has lived her whole life, to Michigan.  On the cusp of entering fifth grade, Olivia is not thrilled about the idea of leaving all of her friends behind and becoming the dreaded “new girl” in school; but at least there is one huge plus to look forward to: Olivia will now live close to her beloved grandmother, with whom she has always spent part of her summer vacations.  Before Olivia heads back home from her grandmother’s house to spend the rest of her last summer in Texas, her grandmother gives her a very special gift: a St. Therese chaplet.  She also begins to talk to her granddaughter about her favorite saint and to tell stories about the amazing ways St. Therese of Lisieux has interceded for her.  As time goes on, Olivia begins to build her own special relationship with St. Therese.

As Olivia navigates the obstacles to sainthood that abound as a middle-schooler (especially one who is trying desperately to fit in at her new Catholic school), she finds many opportunities to call on her special new Heavenly friend for assistance and encouragement.  It’s hard to befriend the class outsiders when it means the “cool girls” might decide to lump you with them, and it’s hard to fight the kind of peer pressure that makes you embarrassed to stand out in any way; but with the help of St. Therese, Olivia learns to stick up for the underdogs while at the same time praying for and exhibiting compassion for the big wigs who act uncharitably toward others, knowing that sometimes love can help to turn lives around.  Olivia perseveres in practicing the “Little Way,” even when it is extremely difficult and she’s not sure that her efforts are bearing any fruit.  She makes mistakes along the way; but as she struggles along, it is touching to read about how she yearns for that visible sign—that promised shower of roses from Heaven—that will prove her new patron has been listening to her prayers.  What’s also very touching is that other characters in the book (ones you might not expect) are inspired to turn to St. Therese as well.  Ultimately, the book shows that though we are all sinners and far from perfect, we are all souls worthy of love, understanding, and forgiveness.

Surely, Belanger’s sweet, entertaining, and inspiring novel Olivia and the Little Way would have been the perfect book for me to read in my girlhood years; but it was incredibly beneficial for me to read it now, and I’m in my mid-fifties!  I’ve found that in the aftermath of reading this little gem, which is aimed at young adult readers but is certainly an enjoyable read for any adult as well, I have been energized anew with the desire to do every small thing with great love, to imitate St. Therese’s “Little Way” to the best of my ability, just as Olivia learns to do in the course of the story.

If you have an impressionable young reader in your house, she should read this book.  If you’re an adult who never got to know St. Therese very well when you were young, you should read this book.  If you want to be inspired to win souls for Jesus through small but important acts of love and self-sacrifice, you should read this book.  And afterwards, you should read the sequel, Olivia’s Gift.  (That’s what I’m going to do!)

On her blog, Nancy Carabio Belanger (who has a deep devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux) states that this is her mission: “to fill the bookshelves of pre-teens with books that celebrate our Catholic faith, modesty, the gift of life, and a wholesome childhood.”  Olivia and the Little Way does all of those things, and does them while introducing the reader to a saint whom we should all get to know better.  Bravo, Nancy Carabio Belanger—mission accomplished!
Okay, now you can head on over to Jessica's to see what's keeping everyone else up way past their bedtimes, reading by flashlight under the covers so Mom and Dad won't catch know the drill.


  1. I'm embarrassed to admit I have this book and the sequel, Mariah (12) has read them but I haven't yet

    1. Don't be embarrassed, I bought both of these for my 12 yr old Olivia as a gift for her baptism day last year and I haven't read them either. I didn't really give it a thought but now that I read this review it has made me want to read them. I daughter did say she enjoyed them though.


  2. We love St Therese, this looks like a good way to connect her philosophy to my oldest daughter's (and my) daily life. Thanks!

  3. I did not know that there was a sequel. I need to scour my shelves to find my copy!

  4. Thank you for this! I definitely want to read and save for my girls :).