Leslie's Reviews > Olive's Ocean

Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
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's review
Sep 28, 11

bookshelves: juvenile, young-adult, award-winner
Read in September, 2011

[read for banned books week : follow link for that portion of the post]

I appreciate when juvenile fiction is creative in their storytelling. I am really taken with the novels in verse, even though, at times, they are intimidating. Olive’s Ocean is not told in verse, but the chapter tend to be short, as short as two paragraphs when necessary. Some are more prose like than others; and I wouldn’t say they could be independent (that might take a second read). Chapters could be linear, they could be looking back, but none of it confusing, nothing beyond the young reader’s grasp. Kevin Henkes has a wonderful sensibility when it comes to pace and portrait here, brevity and motion; natural segues.

What makes Olive’s Ocean beautiful are the relationships: some old, others changing into something new, and some that never would be, some never could be. Some relationships are cut short before they could really blossom, others hold promise of somewhere lovely. One of the greatest values of this read is the affection between Martha and her grandmother Godbee. They decide to tell each other something new-to-the-other-person every day of the vacation. It is a powerful pairing, a young woman discovering herself and an older woman losing herself; the younger creating memories, and the other resorting to those which are already created. The Martha/Olive pairing is nice–We see Olive through Martha at moments, one ghosting the other. I like the Jimmy/Tate juxtaposition, two paths, and then even a third in Vince.

Writers writing Writers is not unusual. In a way, a writerly protagonist (or even a readerly or artistic one) is a reliable one; they are observers–of other and self–and tend to harbor a better lexicon than most. I think Martha may be among the most brilliantly flawed yet, however, and this excites me. When Martha decides she wants to be a Writer: she begins–and struggles. She wants to write a poem.

"She had abandoned her story about Olive, convinced that it was not very good, nor worthy of Olive. But she knew that she wanted to be a writer more than ever. She held on to this feeling without trying to start a new novel just yet. She decided she would try a poem instead–the best poem ever–reasoning that it would be easier to write and to finish, only to discover that this was difficult as well. She ended up with a page of first lines. [...] After rereading her hours worth of work, she thought she wouldn’t try to write anything else until she was back home in Wisconsin." (174-76)

There are some great first lines, but Martha illustrates that wanting doesn’t mean having, or having it easy. Being/becoming someone doesn’t come without work or struggle, and even some amount of deciding. So some things work out; some do not. Henkes gives us a protagonist who is capable, but also one with potential–and determination.

Olive’s Ocean is an easy recommendation for budding young artists/writers. It is a good one for those grieving a loss while still having to live. It honors memory and expression and daring, as well as growing up and adjusting and clinging to the family you have. The Boyle family’s love for one another is built into everything, even the arguing and snide and stupid sounding remarks. So, if you are looking for a book with positive family dynamics in an already pleasurably unusual coming-of-age novel… This is a good novel to promote getting to know that shy person, the overlooked, the new, and to not waste our opportunities.

There are so many points of great discussion from a book that is just a pleasure to read. If some of the questions are uncomfortable, consider this good practice and hope for more uncomfortable questions in the future, because that at least means they are still sharing.

L @ omphaloskepsis

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