Olive's Ocean Book Poster Image

Olive's Ocean

Gentle, moving coming-of-age story.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Martha deals with many issues that could prompt family discussions: the death of a classmate, an angry parent, an aging grandparent, first love, and betrayal. 

Positive messages

Coming to grips with mortality and the implications of death are the focus of this eloquent book. 

Positive role models

Martha's questions throughout the story are what drive the plot. She is curious, perceptive, and aware. 


Not really an issue. One of Martha's classmates is killed in an accident.


Parents having sex is mentioned. Martha has her first kiss.


Some teens swear.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Kevin Henkes
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:November 2, 2003
Number of pages:217
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

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Parent of a 10, 11, and 11 year old Written bybookchick September 11, 2009
I must totally disagree w/ the parent review above. Although Olive's Ocean does have some mild curse words, and one suggestive line, it is the other 99.9% of the book that I choose to focus on. It portrays an average 12-yr old coming to terms w/ growing up, love and mortality. The messages are positive and heartfelt. Anyone focusing on anything else it totally missing the message and point of this entire piece of literature. Hyper sensitive reviewing is what gives the entire reviewing process a bad name and very hard to really know the nature of a story. Please leave the genuine BAD reviews to the violent, graphic, depressing, dark, disturbing and sexual stories that *truly* deserve them. Parents - Olive's Ocean is a wonderful story for your children - age 10 and up will be able to appreciate and understand.
What other families should know
Great messages
Parent of a 5, 7, 9, 14, and 18+ year old Written byjoshie11832001 March 3, 2009

watch out!

Olive's ocean is a well written book and it certainllly will make you stop and realize that life isn't just about you. But, this book has a multitude of curse words, sexual references, and constant disrespect for parents. Even though the book may have a good message, it is so tainted with profanity and disrespect for autority that I would not recommend it especially younger more impressionable grades. Signed, concerned teacher and mother.
Adult Written byVampriccat August 27, 2009


I really enjoyed this book, but the downside for young children is that there are bad role models and bad language.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Educational value