Grief, Loss, Death & Dying

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Olive's OceanReview - Olive's Ocean
by Kevin Henkes
Harper Children's Audio, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 4th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 23)

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.


Christian 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.


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