Olive's Ocean - Kevin Henkes

Not surprisingly, I am a Kevin Henkes fan. Loving mouse stories as we do in our house, there were not many days of my daughters’ childhood spent without a Kevin Henkes book in our hands. We loved Owen, Chrysanthemum, Wemberly, Sheila, and, of course, Lilly most of all. As my kids stopped reading these stories, I began to read his novels, thinking this would be the next logical step for them. I read Sun & Spoon, and my 9 year-old is reading that now. We read Junonia together. For some reason, these novels are so much quieter than his picture books, the characters much more serious. But personally, I feel a little bereft of all the joy that is so abundant in his picture books. Is that what it means to grow up? I appreciate a sad book as much as the next person – especially when I was growing up, but do they all have to be sad? Do all the grandparents have to die, or be dying?


Olive’s Ocean has been on my to-read pile for a while. I think I was afraid to read it, because I didn’t want to be disappointed, and, after all, it has such a pretty cover! Not to mention, it’s won awards. I can’t say the story disappointed me, but again, I felt as if the characters were confined to a specific box of emotions, and even scenes. The relationship between Martha, the main character, and the recently deceased Olive (of the title) was, for me, a little too ambiguous. When Olive writes in her journal that Martha is the only nice girl in school, I have to say, I would have liked to have seen some evidence of this. When she is given this journal entry, even Martha is hard-pressed to explain it. I don’t think she’s a bad kid, but there is nothing even hinted at to make me think that her behavior would have stood apart from the rest of her classmates.


My only other problem with this book was a very brief conversation between Martha, 13, and her 14-year old brother, that I felt was inappropriate. Given the gentleness of the rest of the story, I was disappointed that the author felt it necessary to include it, especially since it seemed completely out of place in the context of the characters’ emotional levels. Trust me, it kills me to sound like a total prude here, but if my brother had said something like that to me about our parents (and we were the same ages as them once, long ago) I would have been completely grossed out, and probably punched him for it. It just felt gratuitous. I checked on the publisher information to be sure I was not confused, (because my 11 year old thought it was a YA book) but they list the age on this at 8 and up.  


Having said that, we will keep reading whatever Kevin Henkes has to offer, because we just can’t help ourselves.