Olive's Ocean

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Olive's Ocean Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Gentle, moving coming-of-age story.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 23 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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.
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... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old November 4, 2018

Possibilities Book

I think this is a good book that makes kids think what can happen in the real world. What the possibilities are and impossible things can happen. Really good bo... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old June 3, 2018

Amazing book a perfect pick for tween Henkes fans

This is a good book. Older readers who enjoyed Kevin Henkes' books when they were younger will be delighted to read this one. I have read it several times... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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