Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

“The sparklers were as white as diamonds. They were like white hot chrysanthemums dripping onto the sand.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “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, Todd, Luke, and Leo. But especially Jimmy. What if, what if, what if, what if? The world can change in a minute.

Review: I’ll preface this review by saying that I have read this book before, albeit a decade ago, when I was roughly the same age as the novel’s 12-year-old heroine, Martha Boyle. I loved Olive’s Ocean then and I love it now. While the jacket synopsis overemphasizes the relevance of Olive and Martha’s “eerie connections,” it also under-emphasizes the real charm of this book: the relationships Martha shares with her family, particularly with her grandmother and two-year-old sister. Those relationships make for many perfectly nuanced moments, aided by Henkes’ captivating writing style and ability to capture the confusion and tumult that is synonymous with pre-teen years. And the subtle ways in which Olive Barstow is woven into the story make for a very powerful read.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: Olive’s Ocean was ranked 59th on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most challenged books from 2000 to 2009 for having “sexually explicit content and offensive language.” Aside from an extremely brief mention of “morning sex” by Martha’s teenage brother, the most “sexually explicit” thing that happens in this book is a kiss. The details of said kiss do not extend beyond, “Now. He. Kissed. Her.” Truly traumatizing stuff. To be honest, I expected the challenge reasoning to be that the death of the young, titular character was inappropriate for the target audience. However, Henkes handles Olive’s death in a manner that is both respectful and approachable even to young demographics.




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