Book Review: Olivetti, by Allie Millington, 253 pages, just published March 26 this year, recommended for ages 8-12 or grades 3-4, first recommended by Tom Hanks, perhaps America's most beloved actor, and an author as well.  Please be advised--as this book is hot off the presses!--it is not yet in the Pageturner library and will require student requests in order for purchases to be made.

In the first place, being a typewriter isn’t as easy as it looks.  There’s all that competition from books, “notorious attention hogs,” and now everybody only wants to look at screens which, of course, typewriters don’t have--perish the thought!  And then there’s the problem of the “typewriterly code,” which mandates that a typewriter should never type its memories--although every typewriter remembers every single letter ever typed on it:  

“Humans type out words on us--stories, love letters, rants about other members of their species. Sometimes, they spill their secrets all over our keys. Our silence makes us trustworthy. So far, I’ve kept my word--which is to say, I’ve kept every word ever given to me.  Every story I’ve stored…Memories are like heartbeats. They keep things alive. They make us who we are…Beatrice always told me everything. I always listened.”

 Olivetti* has been with the Brindle family for twelve years; the mom, Beatrice, had recorded so much of their lives in what she titled her Tapestries, which were really quite lovely.  But now, the family seems to be falling apart. 

Felix, the dad, wears the world on his shoulders.  He had to change jobs, now works in IT, and always wears those things in his ears that make him say, “Shh, not now, I’m on the phone. Work.” Sometimes, he even snaps at Beatrice. He often comes home and slumps into the bedroom, not to be seen again until the following morning.  There are four Brindle children: Ezra, the oldest, a fitness freak who can do 50 pushups at a time and is always ready to prove it to any audience, followed by Adalyn, who’s resentfully assigned more and more adult duties in getting everybody to school, Ernest, the introvert, who spends all his free time alone on the roof, reading the dictionary, and Arlo, who always has several frogs, some of whom he occasionally stuffs into his pjs to get them from one place to another. Olivetti remembers the distinct feel of every childish finger on its keys, along with whatever else was stuck on those fingers, including jellies, sugared crumbs and, naturally, snot.  The typewriter has been sitting on a table, untouched, for too long

Mom is desperately trying to get Ernest to see a different therapist, as Ernest has refused to speak at every appointment with “Dr. Round-a-bout,” as Ernest calls him:
“‘I just wish you would have said something. Anything, at all, Ernest,’ Mom had said, after we left his stuffy office for the last time. ‘He’s there to listen to you.’ ‘I don’t want to talk to him,’ I replied. ‘Well, you have to talk to someone, Ernest. And it can’t just be me. I might not always be around—' ‘I don’t want to talk to you, either,’ I cut her off. Not because I meant those words, but because I hated when she said things like that. Mom had winced, tugging her wide-brimmed hat lower until I could barely see her eyes. Or if I’d made them water. Apologize. Apology. Apoplexy. Apostle. Apostrophe. ‘You can’t keep isolating yourself, Ernest,’ she said. ‘I’m only trying to help.’ ‘I don’t need your help.’ My voice cracked, and not the I-just-turned-twelve kind of crack that sometimes happened. The broken kind. Where the shards of it get stuck in your throat. Mom and I hadn’t spoken since. Seven days straight of not-talking. And now that she’d signed me up for another therapist without even asking, my silent streak was about to stretch a whole lot longer…Once you meet people, you might get close to them. And once you get close to them, you might lose them for good. You’re less likely to get hurt, the farther you stay away.” 

The whole Brindle family has been horribly traumatized by The Everything That Happened.  “The Brindles were done with make-believe. And yet—they still pretended every day.” And then mom disappears, along with her typewriter:

“‘How could she just leave without saying anything?” Ezra’s fist pounded the table, causing an earthquake of toast crumbs. “After everything we went through—after everything she put us through, and now she disapp—' ‘ENOUGH!’ The rubber band snapped, and Dad’s voice ricocheted through the kitchen.” 

They begin searching for clues.  The typewriter is missing, and a receipt locates it at Heartland Pawnshop. There, the storekeeper's daughter, Quinn, takes an interest in Ernest and takes up their quest.  At first, Ernest is utterly flummoxed by her attempted friendship, but she’s always there and turns out to be incredibly helpful. Soon, too, Olivetti breaks the typewriterly code:

“This was my chance to do more. To be more than just a pawn. To be someone worth keeping. My keys took off, loud and clacking and completely against the rules, and my ink smacked the page below Ernest’s words: Do not be alarmed. Ernest screamed, very much alarmed. He scrambled back, his mouth hanging open like a broken puppet’s. ‘What ... what’s going on?’ His wide gaze darted across my greeting on the page. I began to think I should have started with something different. Humor, perhaps. Jokes, I’ve learned, make humans feel at ease. Before I could locate a particularly comical one from my memories, Ernest inched closer. His head tilted, as if he could comprehend the situation better from that angle. ‘Mom?’ Not Mom, I typed. I am Olivetti… I can help you. ‘Help me? How could you help me? You’re just a typewriter.’ I added, ‘No offense,” and then really started to worry. Now I was being considerate of a typewriter’s feelings. I’d officially lost my mind. I am much more than you might think, it typed back.” 

Ernest takes/steals? Olivetti back.  Quinn tracks him down and accuses him of theft.  But then, she gets into the puzzle and steals, too, a ream of paper so Olivetti can type out all his memories.  It types and types and types, the entirety of Tapestry (which Beatrice had destroyed before she left)-- all their family memories, even to the seemingly inconsequential moments. Quinn also takes Ernest to see Dr. Branson, the next “therapist” his mom had insisted he see--he hadn’t gone to that appointment.  Dr. Branson turns out to be a real doctor, one wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck--not a therapist at all--and suddenly Ernest knows: The Everything That Happened is happening all over again. This had been mom, trying to tell him what she couldn’t. 

“It’s almost funny, me wanting to forget the Everything That Happened, when that was exactly where I was still stuck. Maybe the only way to get unstuck was to remember.” The family enlists the local librarian, Mrs. Vivien, and their janitor, a brilliant Brazilian mechanic, Thiago, to help read Tapestries quickly.  They learn that Beatrice felt protected and safe during their last vacation near a huge rock a hundred feet high at Cannon Beach, right before The Everything That Happened.  Quinn discovers the cost of a single bus ticket there costs $126, the exact amount mom had sold Olivetti for.  

Ernest, in a fit of remorse, returns Oli to the pawnshop, where it’s purchased for much, much more than $126 by an artist who intends to dismantle the typewriter and turn its parts into a sculpture.  When Oli is recovered with Felix’s help as a jumble of disconnected parts, its memories have been lost.  But they have enough.  They find Beatrice on the rock at the beach--Felix thinks she’s going to jump and screams for her.  She looks at her family in the water and slowly climbs down, where she assures them she was coming home in any event, she just wanted whatever protection the rock could provide for all of them, before having to go through it all again. 

“‘Oh, Ernest.” She pressed her clammy palm to my cheek. ‘It was hard to hear up there, but were you saying something?’ Somehow, a laugh slipped out of me. The one time I shouted all my feelings, and Mom didn’t hear any of it. ‘I’ll tell you everything on the way home,’ I said, just glad to have the chance to say it all again.

“‘Home.’ Mom’s mouth pulled into a tired smile. ‘I’d like that.’”

Felix dumps his tiresome job; he and Thiago set up in business to put together old typewriters, all of which begin to communicate! Even the artist, eager to help, brings them all the many boxes of parts he’s collected. Ernest devises a plan that saves Mrs. Vivien’s library from closing. Mrs. Vivien and Thiago look to be a couple, soon.  The family pulls together to do whatever it takes to help mom get better again.  And Ernest, to his astonishment, now has a bff in Quinn; he’s learning that friends are important and much easier to find than he’d thought-- although he probably won’t give up reading the dictionary!

Tom Hanks has been the first to praise Olivetti, but he surely won’t be the last. The book presents magical realism and heartfelt warmth but doesn’t turn away from the difficulties all families must endure, one way and another.  This time, the Brindles will hold together, no matter what the future holds.

*Olivetti began with mechanical typewriters when the company was founded in 1909, and produced them until the mid-1990s. Until the mid-1960s, they were fully mechanical, with some portable models, such as the Olivetti Valentine (yes, to answer your question, it was indeed red). You can see various versions of Olivetti typewriters, including the famous Lettera 22, along with the poster ads of their day, at:  
Many, many years ago, I purchased a portable Olivetti myself, hoping to travel the world with it, trusting its beautifully zippered case to keep out the sands of Alexandria.  I never did travel much, but my Olivetti gave me the confidence to write, forever. RIP, Olivetti.