A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a gentle story about coming to grips with mortality and the implications of death. Martha is a curious, perceptive, and aware protagonist, and her questions throughout the story are what drive the plot. There's not too much controversial material: teens swear, parents have sex, Martha has her first kiss. Martha also deals with many issues that could prompt family discussions: the death of a classmate, an angry parent, an aging grandparent, first love, and betrayal.
What's the story?
At her family's annual stay with her grandmother, Godbee, on Cape Cod, Martha has a lot to think about. She plans to be a writer, she has a crush on an older boy, Godbee is getting frail, and sometimes Martha can't stand her family. But most of all she is thinking about Olive, a shy new girl in her class whom she had barely noticed. Olive was killed in an accident a few weeks ago, and she had written in her journal that she too wanted to be a writer, to visit the sea, and to be friends with Martha, whom she considered "the nicest person in my whole entire class."
Why? Martha can't even remember talking to her. She wasn't mean, but wrapped up in herself and her friends she had never reached out to Olive. As Martha suffers through small family upheavals, first love, and first betrayal, the memory of Olive haunts her.
Is it any good?
In addition to his picture books, Kevin Henkes is the author of moving little character studies like this one, in which not much happens, except in the hearts of the characters, and the readers. It is the kind of novel much beloved by librarians, who tend to give them awards, and a certain kind of child, one who is an avid reader and loves stepping into someone else's heart and mind for a while.
Here Henkes is dealing with that moment of change, often painful, when family is not the safe haven it once was, the outer world seems less than welcoming, and mortality is all too evident. He captures it with great delicacy in a novel that will appeal to those experienced readers who are not looking for a uniform diet of fantasy and adventure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the issues Martha grapples with, including the death of a classmate. How do you think she feels when she finds out that the dead girl wanted to be her friend?
This book won a Newbery Honor award. Why do you think it was selected? Do you think it deserved this award? Looking at this list of other recent award winners, are there others you would like to read?
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