Olly & the Spores of Oak Hill
Independently Published (2022)
Reviewed by Terri Stepek for Reader Views (12/2022)
Starting a kid’s book with the murder of an old man? Bold move, but it sure got my attention. Many in town spoke of the recently deceased Oren Appleton as the “hermit of Oak Hill.” But to the main character, he was a beloved grandfather.
We first meet Olly and his parents as they move into the inherited house on Oak Hill in Littleton, Massachusetts. Olly has very fond memories of his grandfather spending time with him roaming through natural areas, exploring, and playing games. Olly’s love for nature, and specifically plants, comes directly from his grandfather’s influence. So, while Olly mourns the passing of his grandfather, he sees the possibility of great adventure in exploring the woods of Oak Hill that the older man adored. Having befriended a girl in town who shares his love for nature, Olly inadvertently begins a journey of discovery that will change their lives.
Olly and his close-knit family are a joy to read about. They are genuine, engaging, and generous in their love and appreciation for life. They’ve been facing a financial crisis that doesn’t seem to improve as they settle into life in their new town. Their struggles are relatable, and it’s wonderful to see how the parents work together to overcome obstacles they couldn’t have anticipated.
Olly’s relationship with Ember, a local girl his age, is fun to watch. She’s a firecracker who loves botany, like Olly. She can also hold her own when it comes to witty banter, and their relationship develops through the storyline into one of those rare soul-close friendships.
All of the characters in this story are nicely developed and appropriate for a middle-grade/high-school read. The location of Oak Hill is a wonderland virtually any child would love to romp through, even before we learn of the Spore community within. Spores are small nature-loving creatures that have inhabited this site for centuries by remaining hidden. But when Olly and Ember run into trouble with bullies from school, the Spores step in to help the grandson of their good friend, Oren Appleton.
What follows is a beautiful story of young people allowing their hearts to open for others who are different from themselves, while remaining firm in their beliefs, and standing up for the rights of others. As a new mall threatens the homes of Olly’s and Ember’s families, it would also destroy the community of Spores. Olly and Ember choose to stand in the gap and stop the mall developer to preserve the community on the hill.
While I loved the characters, the location, and the storyline, it was the pacing that brought it all together, creating a story that not just schoolchildren can enjoy. As the story progressed, the energy level seemed to increase. There became a sense of urgency, a sense of pressing need as though preparing for battle, and I found myself completely engrossed in the plight of these people and the community in their struggle.
“Olly and the Spores of Oak Hill” by Glenn Somodi has everything a good novel needs: relatable characters, both good and bad, mysterious events, great wit, spooky legends, a cause to stand up for, and thrilling suspense. There’s even a touch of romance. I heartily recommend this book to students in 5th through 12th grade and adults as well. I not only enjoyed this story, I devoured it, and found myself wanting more.