Henkes, Kevin. Olive’s Ocean. Greenwillow, 2005. ISBN 978-0060535452. 224 pp. $
Martha didn’t even know Olive very well, but when the classmate who was always a little odd, a little scapegoated, dies unexpectedly, Martha is stunned when Olive’s mother hand-delivers a note that reveals Martha and Olive shared the same dream: to become a published author. Furthermore, Olive had hoped she and Martha would become friends in the coming school year. As Martha enjoys her summer vacation on Cape Cod, lingering thoughts of Olive and mortality fill her days as she becomes closer than ever to her aging and beloved grandmother Godbee. In between contemplating the meaning of life, death and everything in between, Martha passes her time babysitting her younger sister, writing, and playing with the next door neighbors (a trio of unruly boys), one whom plays a nasty trick on her.
Henkes has perfectly captured that prepubescent time in a young girl’s life when she wavers between being humiliated by her mother and wanting to be held, a time when you can feel glittery and on top of the world until a crushing comment from your brother brings you crashing back down to earth. The lovely thing about this book is that Henkes conveys this moody period honestly without resorting to angst or catastrophe or drama. The book has the ebb-and-flow feel of the ocean as his perfectly-paced narrative ranges from chapters consisting solely of dialogue to poetic lines like “the sky was full–of blue and sun.” and “the ocean like a big blue overcoat zippered me up.” Beautifully written, this gem of a novel is well-deserving of the Newbery honor award.