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Book Review: Olive Branches Don't Grow on Trees

Book Review:  Olive Branches Don't Grow on Trees Cover Image

S. A. Smith

October 11, 2022

I'll be honest. I bought this book because of the clever title. Grace Mattioli says she wrote it to show that not everybody in New Jersey is a moron or a member of the Mafia. Obviously, the author has a sense of humor, and somehow she uses it to make the reader, if not fall in love with, at least empathize with the Grecos, the large, extremely dysfunctional Italian family at the center of the story.

When the novel begins, we meet the youngest daughter, Silvia, a recent college graduate and talented artist who sabotages herself with dead-end jobs and aimless wandering from city to city (and state to state) in search of happiness and fulfillment. She's finding neither in her childhood home, which is ruled by her father, the iron-fisted, mercurial Frank, a longstanding judge who's lost faith in the legal system he's bound to uphold. Living with them is Vince, a soon-to-be high school graduate who wants nothing more than to go to college as far away as he can get. Absent is mom Donna, who finally had enough of Frank's violent, drunken rages and moved out. The family is rounded out by elder siblings Cosmo, who's perfectly happy with his barely-making-it career and low-rent lifestyle, and Angie, who's married to a wealthy Wall Street guru but is desperately unhappy despite her perfect life.

None of these people are truly comfortable around any of the others. Most of the time, they don't even like each other. When Donna's guilt over abandoning her youngest son to fend for himself with Frank becomes too much, she convinces Silvia the two of them must plan a family gathering to celebrate Vince's high school graduation. Silvia unwillingly agrees, and a short while later, Donna dumps the entire thing into Silvia's lap.

The remainder of the book involves Silvia's quest to convince Frank and her siblings to come together for Vince. It isn't an easy job--even Vince doesn't want the gathering--and it's less easy because Silvia has her own problems to deal with.

This book isn't the best I've ever read, but it certainly isn't the worse. Olive Branches Don't Grow on Trees is the first in a planned series, and I'll most likely read the next book to see if the ending teaser about two of the siblings comes to a happy fruition. My main complaint is that things often seem overexplained or explained multiple times. I wanted to shout at the author, "Enough already! I get it!" but as a writer myself, I know how easy it is to slip into overexplaining mode. It'll be interesting to see if the problem leaks over into the next book.

I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars, but since half-stars are frowned upon, I'll round up to 4 instead of down to 3. The Greco family deserves the benefit of the doubt for all it's been through.