The Thing about Oliver – Deborah Kelly


Sometimes I feel just like the glass in my fish tank— people look right through me.

Twelve-year-old Tilly dreams of becoming a marine scientist, but she doesn’t even own a swimsuit. She lives in a drought- stricken town with her mum and younger brother Oliver, who is autistic.

Oliver’s meltdowns are making life unbearable. He needs so many different kinds of therapy that there’s never any time—or money—left over for swimming lessons. Tilly knows Oliver’s needs have to come first, but it’s hard feeling invisible all the time.

When Mum announces they are moving to the Queensland coast, Tilly is excited at the thought of finally learning to swim— even snorkel! But she is also worried. The thing about Oliver is, he can’t cope with even the tiniest of changes to his routine.

It isn’t long before the cracks begin to show. Could so many changes all at once threaten to shatter the whole family?

My review

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Books have the power to change perspectives, increase understanding and move us to tears. The Thing about Oliver is one of those stories. Deborah Kelly has written a captivating, touching, insightful and heartfelt story. I was smiling, crying and feeling every emotion in between.

The Thing about Oliver is written from the perspective of Tilly, sister of Oliver. Tilly is an ambitious, courageous and bright young girl who is determined to become a marine scientist. Her knowledge of sea creatures is fantastic, offering some hillarious fun facts about specific creatures. Tilly loves her brother, yet finds life difficult. Her hope is to learn to swim and attend the local pool for swimming lessons… if only Oliver didn’t have a meltdown when they were intending to view the pool.

Oliver, Tilly and their mum, Dana, are a very close family. They struggle daily to keep the peace within their closeknit family of three. Oliver has autism and routine is of utmost importance. If something changes or if he is startled, it is difficult for him and his family to create the calm he needs again. When the family move to Townsville to live with Aunt Janine, there are many changes and challenges they face. They face these challenges as a family of four.

This is a book that I would love for everyone to read. For children who read this story, they will gain understanding of what it could be like to live with autism or to have a family member with autism. Teachers will gain insight into the workings of young minds and be able to offer more support. As a mum, there are points in this story that I can relate to and there is a point in which I was brought to tears. Deborah Kelly’s writing had me on the edge of my seat, hoping for a positive outcome for this beautiful family.

The ‘glass children’ are the siblings of children with disabilities. Often they are overlooked or disregarded unintentionally. The parents’ main focus may be the child with the disability, in order to maintain peace wherever possible and ensure the safety of all children. We need to consider how these children must feel. I could feel the mother’s pain and struggle, as she must try to find work and do what is best for her children whilst trying to spend quality time with them. It is difficult for Dana to provide Tilly with the opportunities other children have, as Oliver requires a lot of appointments and care. We often consider a care plan for a disabled child, we don’t often consider the pressure and stress placed on their family members.

I highly recommend The Thing about Oliver. The more young children who read this, the more we will see understanding of autism among school aged children. As a High School teacher, I hope that my colleagues and students will read this book to promote autism awareness and increase empathy for their peers.

Deborah Kelly’s books all have important themes within. Her books are well loved and read by my family, in particular my two year old son.