Death and Dying, Secrets and Sharing…
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Olive Barstow was dead. Martha Boyle didn’t know what to make of that. She knew even less what to make of the fact that Olive Barstow’s mother had given her a page from Olive’s journal; a page on which Olive had confided her secrets and hopes. To Martha’s surprise, these secrets and hopes involved her; in fact, Martha and Olive had some secrets in common and Martha realized that they could have been good friends.
And suddenly Olive went from someone Martha didn’t think of much at all, to someone she thought of all the time. Even on her annual family vacation to the ocean to visit her favourite grandmother, Godbee, Olive was there hovering around the fringes of Martha’s awareness. This particular vacation was different from others, and not just because of Olive: for the first time, Martha found herself interested in seeing Tate, one of a family of boys who lived down the beach from Godbee’s house.
Kevin Henkes, perhaps best known for his charming picture books such as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and Chrysanthemum, also writes for older readers. With the award-winning Olive’s Ocean, he has crafted a thoughtful coming of age story exploring the themes of identity, loss, and loyalty as a young girl comes to terms with the death of her classmate, her relationship with her aging grandmother, and the bittersweet taste of first romance.
Despite its short chapters and length, Olive’s Ocean is not a book for reluctant readers. The gentle pacing is well suited to the book’s contemplative style; however, it may deter less committed readers. Despite the publisher’s recommended reading age of 10 and up, it would take a skilled and sophisticated elementary reader to appreciate and understand the mature themes and tone this novel.
Awards for Olive’s Ocean:
Newbery Honor Book
ALA Notable Book
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Horn Book Fanfare
Recommended with reservations.
VOYA review code: 3P/J
Category: Contemporary realistic fiction
2003, Harper Trophy, 217p., $7.99