Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Standalone. Greenwillow Books (August 2003) Library
"Olive Barstow was dead. She'd been hit by a car on Monroe Street while riding her bicycle weeks ago. That was about all Martha knew."

Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends. But they weren't -- and now all that is left are eerie connections between two girls who were in the same grade at school and who both kept the same secret without knowing it. Now Martha can't stop thinking about Olive. A family summer on Cape Cod should help banish those thoughts; instead, they seep in everywhere. And this year Martha's routine at her beloved grandmother's beachside house is complicated by the Manning boys. Jimmy, Tate, Luke, and Leo. But especially Jimmy. What if, what if, what if, what if? The world can change in a minute. 

I was startled by the summary of Olive's Ocean. It's been so long since I wanted to read it that I completely forgot what the book was about or maybe I never knew. The cover is what attracted me and bonus it's by Kevin Henkes who wrote one of my favorite picture books: Chrysanthemum. 

It was strange realizing that the protagonist was not going to be named Olive but the book would be about a girl named Olive who died. The first chapter had me crying so much because Olive's mother came around and gave Martha (our protagonist) a note from her daughter. She receded from Martha's house saying: "And thank you. Thank you, Martha Boyle." which of course is when I started crying because her shy little daughter was now gone from the world. Olive had no friends so it must have been wonderful to see she made a connection with somebody or at least her daughter wasn't teased by Martha for her quietness. 

The note mentions all of Olive's hopes for the future and that Martha Boyle is the nicest person in her whole entire class. Martha doesn't know what to make of this because she never did anything or say anything to Olive that was nice. She wasn't mean to her of course but she couldn't understand why Olive felt that way. Right away Martha proves herself. Even in her flashback about learning about Olive's death she was kind. Throughout the whole book you understand why Olive wrote what she wrote.

"She had been trying to piece together the facts about Olive Barstow, the outline of Olive's life for the short time it had intersected with her own. Martha realized how little she knew. For the most part Olive was a mystery. Martha knew nothing about Olive's home life, nothing about her family, except that her mother rode a bike and wore her hair in a braid. Olive's school life, from Martha's perspective, didn't offer many answers either. Olive had seemed nearly invisible, passing through the halls and days unnoticed, except when she was being teased by Josh Sweeney or Dana Lewis."

Martha and Olive's connection is writing. They both want to become writers. Martha hasn't told anyone of her desire because her father is a writer and she doesn't want to make it seem like she's copying. Martha goes on a trip right after her interaction with Olive's mother and she has this feeling of dread around her. She doesn't know what to make of the note and can't help feeling sad and scared of death especially since her grandmother is getting very old.

"The ocean made her feel insignificant and slightly afraid, but in an exhilarating way. Her inclination was not to walk or dance across the water's surface. Nor to swim through it. She wanted to be the ocean."

Godbee is Martha's grandmother. Martha loves her grandmother. They share secrets with one another during her stay. You can tell she's worried about her grandmother but also about this new feeling in her heart - the fluttering of having a crush. This is where the book turns into an obvious route. I knew what was going to happen and that's always frustrating. It actually annoyed me quite a bit; her situation with Jimmy. One other thing is the slight cursing in this book from the Manning boys which surprised me. I wanted to mention that because I think this is a book more for preteens than younger children even though it feels like it could be for both. It's a very light read and the chapters soar by very quickly and the story is beautifully written so it didn't matter much to me. 

“As she wove in and out of all the people - rushing, talking, eating, laughing; some in clumps, some alone - she realized that no one, no one at all in the airport, or on the entire planet for that matter, knew her thoughts, knew what she was carrying inside her head and heart. And at that very minute, what was inside her head and heart made her feel as though there was no one else in the whole world she would rather be.” 

It was interesting to read about Martha's take on love and death. Martha could be very sweet and then unkind to her mother. I liked seeing the relationship between her parents and her as well as her siblings Lucy and Vince. She's a very introspective girl who really proved herself to have a kind heart in the end. I enjoyed reading her writing as well as her grandmother's story idea. This was very nice read that was written beautifully, it was a little predictable, but with a very caring protagonist.


  1. This sounds like a beautiful novel, Adriana! I adore books that deal with all the nitty gritty so I must check this one out!

    Fantastic review <33

    1. Going into it I thought it was going to be really light but it really captured that time in your life where you are experiencing new firsts that can be rough.


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