Oliver is eighteen and living on the streets, rejected by his mother because of a horrific accident that killed his father and sister and Oliver’s stupid involvement in a crime that landed him in prison. Oliver survives any way he can, sometimes selling his art and occasionally resorting to more unsavory methods of making money. Physically, Oliver is just OK, but mentally he is haunted and traumatized, frequently suffering panic attacks especially when near cars.
It seems as though Oliver’s luck is changing when he helps an elderly woman home after a fall, only to be taken in by her and her twin sister and given room and board in exchange for his help around their house. Not only do Tude and Vera give Oliver a roof over his head, new clothes, and food, but they buy him art supplies and an easel and he has the opportunity to find love with his new next door neighbor, Simon.
Yet, Oliver has a chip on his shoulder and is unable to believe anyone cares about him, from the local police officer, Richards, to Vera and Tude and Simon. However, when the lives of his new friends are endangered, Oliver has to make a decision and put himself at risk to help others.
M.B. Mulhall executes her storytelling perfectly in Driven, propelling the narrative by arousing a range of emotions within her reader. Our compassion towards Oliver’s situation soon becomes frustration at his unwillingness to let anyone in. We then feel a sense of hope as his relationship with Simon begins, which is quickly replaced by fear and disgust as Oliver is manipulated and used by low life, Marcus. We empathize with Oliver’s shame about the car accident in which his father and younger sister died, while feeling anger towards the mother who turned him away. During the latter stages of the novel, our disappointment with Oliver becomes understanding and warm optimism.
The events are clearly important within this story, both past and present, but I love the depth of Mulhall’s characters and the very specific role each one plays. Oliver is at the center of Driven and aside from being the protagonist who connects the reader to the plot, he also challenges us. He is not someone I always liked. In fact, there were several times I could have screamed at him!
Vera and Tude are the most delightful characters. They are warm, knowing, a little cantankerous, and provide the reader with wonderful light-hearted moments, like the time when Tude has too many mimosas, dances on a table and breaks her ankle!
Officer Richards is admirable for the way he continues to support Oliver, despite the young man constantly pushing him away. Richards is a father and a husband, as well as a good police officer. One of the hardest moments in Driven is Richards’ tough-love talk with Oliver in which he detaches himself:
I just don’t think I can handle seeing you continue to cut yourself down like you’re worthless. I get coming from your background that you may find it hard to believe that some people still care about what happens to you, but we’re out there, and there’s not much worse than seeing someone you care about slowly killing themselves.
I think this conversation is the beginning of a change in Oliver’s thinking, but the idea of him losing Richards’ guidance is painful for both Oliver and the reader.
Like Tude, Vera and Richards, Simon’s role is to encourage Oliver to step outside his comfort zone. Simon offers Oliver friendship, but Simon has family issues and because of that, Oliver has to learn to become less selfish. The biggest obstacle for the pair is Oliver’s lack of trust and Mulhall does not make this an easy journey for them, though I feel because of this the reader becomes more invested in their relationship.
Oliver is eighteen, so technically Driven is a young adult novel. This does not mean that Driven will not appeal to adult readers, but Mulhall does specifically address issues to which her target audience can relate. These include the subject of Oliver’s homelessness, his grief and anger, his estrangement from his mother, his disbelief in his own self-worth, and Simon’s difficult admission to his friends that he is gay. I think Mulhall does a brilliant job of tackling these important topics, dealing with the cause and effect and the aftermath for these characters.
Driven is written with intensity and emotion and I left a piece of my heart with Oliver when I finished this novel. I cannot wait to read more by Mulhall and Driven is definitely a book I would recommend.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.