Little Toy Car
by Gabe Oliver
Genre: Literary Fiction / Coming of Age
Print Length: 377 pages
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
The perils of childhood meet the complications of adulthood in this hopeful coming of age story.
One small act can change your life forever. When 5 year old Gene unknowingly steals a little toy car, it leads him and his single mother to lose their housing, and from there, things only get more challenging for the pair. In Gabe Oliver’s Little Toy Car, we follow Gene as he learns about the struggles of life and how sometimes you really can’t catch a break.
After losing their housing, Gene and his mother soon move in with a man she meets at church. What seems like the perfect solution to harsh times ends up being just another problem as Gene’s new stepdad has an unhealthy obsession with power and Christianity.
As Gene grows older, he begins to question things like who his real dad is, the usefulness of religion, and what it means to love and be loved. In short, he’s trying to figure it all out on his own, which leads to one hell of a journey.
Gabe Oliver’s storytelling style leans heavily on the descriptive side. At times I found myself wanting to skip over the more mundane deep-dives into description, and at other times I was captured by how real he could make an environment feel.
Moments from Gene’s childhood—his time living in a car, his schooling experience— benefit from Oliver’s attention to detail and bring his story to life.
While there are certainly highs and lows, big reveals and devastating aspects, Little Toy Car ebbs and flows in a way that most people’s lives do. Calm moments mix with daring life choices, shaping the novel into something genuine. With each year that goes by, Gene seems to discover something new about his past that allows him to move with more confidence toward his future.
Perseverance is a notable theme in this book. The amount of times Gene has to recover from failure makes his story an inspiring one. It’s meaningful to watch him come back from the times that could have broken him. This book speaks to the idea of making the life you want to live, and while not quite as rosy as the saying seems, his life story is a fine example of it.
Gabe Oliver thrives with this portrayal of events through the eyes of younger Gene. The young character sees things only as a child could, but then he reverts to something new, different, and more complicated in adulthood. I see this most in the way he sees his mother with his stepdad. There are countless full-circle moments in Little Toy Car.
While there is a lot to enjoy here, there are also times when a recounting of events replaces the usual description. Also, Gene doesn’t always have a specific goal (other than figuring out life), so we can spend some pages in stagnancy.
In the end, Little Toy Car will leave you with a sense of hopefulness even in harrowing times.
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