Literary Criticism and Significance
Published in 2005 and winner of a Newbery Honor Award, Olive’s Ocean is a very well-written and charming tale of how people’s lives are subtly connected in amazing and profound ways. Written in a charming style with short yet incisive chapters, it is an easy and elegant read featuring an insightful and lovable main character. Critics describe the story as “satisfying and emotionally authentic,” “compelling,” and “paradigmatically perfect.” It is not a flashy or exciting adventure story, but it is “quiet art” that will soothe and enchant the readers with its “rare subtlety and sensitivity.” Kevin Henkes displays a remarkable gift for relating the “emotional realities” of growing up and attempting to navigate the perplexities of adolescence. This book will resonate with adolescent readers everywhere.
Of particular praise was Henkes’s style, which was at times “staccato” and at other times amazingly “eloquent” to create a tone, interest, and flow that is dynamic, unique, and well suited to the storyline. Kevin Henkes’s chapters are sometimes just a paragraph and at other times are a few pages; his refreshing departure from standard lengths adds to the effectiveness of the novel. Henkes also adjusts his writing style to convey the mood and emotion of what occurs in each chapter, which helps each section to emanate emotion effectively.
The novel deals with death and adolescence as well as other social aspects such as bullying, cruelty, and family roles in subtle, tasteful and realistic ways. The main character, Martha, navigates all of these situations with remarkable maturity and insight, providing a good role model for young girls. Even though the book is aimed at adolescent girls, adults will find it enjoyable and well crafted also. Adolescent boys might be put off by the female character and her emotional outlook on life; also, struggling readers might be distracted and confused by Henkes’s unconventional style. However, its “rich characterizations” and fully realized characters add to the charm of the book, giving it a real and authentic feel despite its short length. Olive’s Ocean is a worthwhile and touching read, one that many readers of varying ages will find thought provoking and satisfying.