Today I finished “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes.
He is a pretty notable writer for other children’s books, so it’s probably not surprising when I say that I really loved this book.
It has a very lovely, melancholy tone and at the same, can so acutely pinpoint ethereal magic in the everyday- all of course, from the eyes of a 12-year-old girl.
It begins with Martha, who is left with page from the journal of classmate, Olive, who was recently killed after being hit by a car.
Martha didn’t really know her, but Olive’s mother gives her a page from her journal that says she hopes she could be Martha’s friend.
Naturally Martha doesn’t exactly know how to talk about it. And so she leaves for a trip to see her grandmother, Godbee who lives by the sea.
As some of you know, I think the ocean is the perfect place for inspiration. And of course, the way Henkes writes, he conveys why- with all sorts of fleeting imagery- short chapters and incomplete thoughts, and heavy description of colors, feelings and sensations.
But certainly, he has a meticulous way of creating boundaries where character revelations seem to logically start and end: the journal page, Martha’s conversations with her grandmother, her first kiss, her near drowning experience, and finally when she takes Olive’s Ocean back home to give to Olive’s mother.
Even though her story is ongoing, there is a definite sense of closure.
However, like I have said, there is ethereal magic of the everyday- the type that moves Martha and gives her beginnings and endings.
When she tries to give the sea to Olive’s mother, she finds that she has moved away.
So Martha takes a paintbrush and uses the seawater to write “Olive” on the steps of her abandoned home.
Both Martha and the story come full circle. (At the beginning of the story, Martha uses chalk to write Olive’s name at the site of the accident.)
It’s very beautiful, that’s what I’m trying to say.
I’m reading a lot of children’s books, but I have to say that this one felt very real to me. It’s possible that having a location by the sea aids in my own superstitions and mystic beliefs, but it’s more simple than that. It’s just poetic.
Anyway, the book had a very delicious idea.
Each day Martha and her grandmother say one new thing that the other doesn’t know about them.
Imagine doing that with someone you love, not overwhelming them all at once with all your facts and figures, but just one thing.
A secret for a secret.