Henkes, K. (2003). Olive's ocean. New York: Harper Collins Children's Books, 217pp.
Genre: Realistic fiction
Awards: Newberry Honor Book, ALA Notable Book, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, Horn Book Fanfare
Summary: The story of a young girl, named Martha, who is deeply affected by the tragic death of a classmate, Olive, whom she barely knew. Shortly after the fatal accident, Martha is delivered a page from Olive's journal by way of Olive's mother. After reading the page, Martha discovers that though they barely knew each other, they shared some secrets. Martha learned Olive's dreams for the future were to be a writer of novels, travel to the ocean, and to be Martha's best friend. Martha is unsure how to feel about what she's learned because her own secret is that she wants to be a writer as well. All this happens, as she heads to her grandmother's house by the ocean to spend her summer vacation. This vacation becomes a time of growth for Martha as she comes to terms with some serious issues.
Kevin Henkes does an exceptional job of developing his characters. Martha's character captures the essence of girls at this early age. I imagine many girls could relate to Martha's emotions and reactions. Martha's grandmother, Godsbee, is another lovely character. She's the grandmother everyone wants. Godsbee adores Martha just as she is without any judgments and this complete acceptance provided the special environment for their relationship to grow stronger. Godsbee senses Martha is troubled and makes a deal with her. They take turns sharing secrets with each other. It's during these secret sharing sessions that you see their relationship grow even closer and more intimate. I love the relationship between Martha and Godsbee.
As the summer draws to a close, Martha comes to terms with her own feelings. She senses a need to do something for Olive, to make at least one dream come true. Since Olive can't go the ocean, Martha takes the ocean to her by way of a baby food jar. This gesture provides closure for Martha.
I loved reading this book! The first chapter grabbed my attention and I know it would do the same to many girls and maybe even some boys. I would not choose this for a whole group read because I think boys could be turned off by the fact all main characters are girls and only a few boys are involved in the plot. Their characters are not as developed as the others. I would use it in small groups and most definitely recommend it to girls to read independently. In a small group or literature circle setting, this book provides much for readers to contemplate and discuss. In addition to discussions, this book has high interest topics that could be extended into writing. Reading, discussing, and writing reflections on death, boys, first kisses, and growing up would give many girls a way to process their own feelings in a healthy way. Olive's Ocean would be appropriate reading for fifth and up.