Twelve-year-old Martha Boyle has a
wonderful close family; her parents, her grandmother Godbee, her older brother
Vince and her infant sister Lucy. They are from Wisconsin but they are on
their annual summer vacation with at Godbee's beach house on Cape Cod. Her
father has been looking after Lucy full time and trying to write a novel, but
his writing hasn't being going well, so he decides to return to his job as a
lawyer. Godbee suggests to Martha that it could be their last summer together.
Martha gets a crush on one of the five Manning boys, Jimmy, who is staying just
down the beach and plans to be a filmmaker. Martha decides she wants to be a
writer. It is a time of transitions.
Kevin Henkes' story gets us into
Martha's mind and the whirl of feelings she experiences. Most of the novel is
fairly standard fare for young readers; the embarrassment of trying to speak to
someone you have a crush on, keeping secrets from your parents, having
adventures that you don't want to tell other people about, realizing that your
grandparents are not going to live forever. However, the book starts with the
death of a girl from Martha's class, Olive Barstow, who was hit by a car while
riding her bike. Martha is given a page from Olive's journal and is surprised
to learn that Olive liked her, even though she had hardly ever spoken to the
girl. Olive's death gives Martha a sense of the fleeting nature of life and a
need to somehow come to terms with the lost opportunity of knowing Olive
better. This theme of loss mixed with realizing future possibilities makes Olive's
Ocean a distinctive work. One of Martha's friends tells her "you
think too much," but that is what makes Martha appealing. She is
sensitive and reflects on her life in a meditative and even philosophical way.
Of course, her life is secure and
privileged, and the drama in her life is modest. Olive's Ocean is
pleasantly thoughtful, and it has won the award of being a Newbury Honor Book,
but it is still rather bland and earnest.
The audiobook is performed very
well by Blair Brown, who brings the characters to life with her different
intonations. Occasionally chapters are introduced by a maudlin violin theme,
adding to the morosely humorless feel of the book.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.