by Henkes, Kevin. (Greenwillow, 2003 ISBN 0060535431. Order Info.) novel. Grades 4+.
Kevin Henkes is one of those amazing writers who can give us wonderful and inventive books for the very young and then turn around and give us novels for older readers that are equally successful. Olive's Ocean is a Newbery Honor book that is accessible for readers from fourth grade up. The book is deceptively simple. It could provide topics for discussion about values, honesty, guilt, mortality, trust, family, ambition, and many many more. Only time is the ceiling there.
The book is full of contractions and challenges. Olive's ocean is neither the Atlantic nor the Pacific, but a bit of sea water in a baby food jar. And we never get to meet Olive. Martha, the twelve-year-old protagonist in this thoughtful novel, did meet Olive, but missed the chance to know the shy classmate who, like Martha, wanted to be a writer.
After Olive's death, her mother brings Martha a note from Olive's journal in which Olive has expressed her dreams: becoming a writer, seeing the ocean, and getting to know Martha. Olive says in her note that she wants to write a novel that is neither an adventure nor a mystery but an emotional book. That's exactly what Kevin Henkes has written. The note acts as a catalyst for much of what Martha will learn and deal with in the one summer of this story: her first confrontation with romance, betrayal, and death.
Martha and her family make the yearly trek from Madison, Wisconsin to the Cape Cod home of her grandmother whom Martha calls Godbee. Martha and Godbee's connection has always been a strong one. This summer Godbee proposes that they share something about themselves each day and that obligation is both a release and an obstacle for Martha as her emotions are battered about. Godbee, whose health is failing, must confront her own imminent death and confesses her fear to Martha.
Martha never does get to deliver the jar of sea water to Olive's mother as she planned, but she gets to know a lot about herself and a little bit about Olive in this tender and honest book.
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