This is not your school's summer reading list

Olive’s Ocean

Olive's Ocean

By Kevin Henkes
Middle grade
Greenwillow Books: HarperCollins (2003); paperback, 2005
ISBN:0-06-053543-1/9780060535452
Awards/recognitions: * Newbery Honor Book * ALA Booklist Editor’s Choice * ALA Notable Children’s Book * Virginia Young Readers Award * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age

No one knows the heart of feisty girls like Kevin Henkes. He is, of course, most famous for his beloved world of mice, with such classics as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, where he explores all the landmines of growing up, whether it’s having your classmates tease you for your name or having to spend a weekend with a boorish guest. My kids and I read these books until the covers fell off. I still have them on the shelf.

But Olive’s Ocean, his 2003 middle grade novel, is just as intelligent, gentle and true as his mouse books. Here, Martha is twelve years old and off to a family summer vacation at her grandmother’s house. On the eve of their departure, she receives a visit from the mother of Olive Bartow, a classmate Martha barely knew and who was recently killed in a car accident. Mrs. Bartow leaves Martha with an entry from Olive’s journal.

“I hope I can get to know Martha Boyle this summer” the journal page reads. “I hope we can be friends. She is the nicest person in my whole, entire class.”

So begins the summer during which Martha will take her first steps away from innocence. There is so much to love in this gem of a novel. Henkes touches expertly on the churning troubles of a middle school girl, most especially the sting of being used. As usual, he also crafts a story about the natural growing pains of all families – even happy ones. In the end, though, what Henkes does best is capture in Martha the most radiant thing about girls who are twelve. He gives us a kind girl at the beginning of absolutely everything. MM

Learn more about author Kevin Henkes.

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