This Week, I Read…Kevin Henkes’s Olive’s Ocean


This Week, I Read…Olive’s Ocean

Trigger Warning: Suicide

Olive’s Ocean is the Newberry Honor Award-Winning book by children’s writer, Kevin Henkes. This is his first YA book, published in 2003. I bought and read this book when I was in the ninth grade. Despite several mass clean-outs over the years, this book has remained steadfastly on my bookshelves, and my re-read this week reminded me why.

Olive Barstow is the quiet, lonely outsider in Martha Boyle’s class. A few weeks after Olive is hit by a car and killed, Martha is visited by Olive’s mother. She hands Martha a page from Olive’s diary. On it, Olive wrote the things that she wished would happen: to become a writer, to live by the sea, and to become Martha’s friend. Martha is floored. Recently, she has also decided to become a writer, she is about to go and stay with her grandmother at the beach. Usually, the death is someone they knew. But Olive is someone Martha didn’t know, and won’t ever be able to. This is what makes this book particularly profound. Martha mourns what could have been. This book is a lovely, aching portrayal of the interior life of a teenage girl. It’s a piece which resonates with me, even now, at the age of thirty.

This book, reading it now, I see that it has shaped the way that I make friends. I have always made sure to befriend the quiet person in the room. This person, while they do not involve themselves in social gatherings or group discussions is the fiercest and most loyal of friends.

Last fall, one of my friends committed suicide. I’m not going to use her name here to protect her privacy. After her death, I have a lot of questions. Like Martha, in Olive’s Ocean, the questions can only be answered by one person, and she’s gone. I’ve felt, for many months, like I failed my friend. I keep going through the “I could haves” and the “I should haves.” I wish that there is something, anything that I could have done.

I could say that because of this book, she and I were friends—I do tend to seek out the people who are misunderstood, like Olive. I think about this book often. Although the bigger reason is because I saw something in her that reminded me of myself. I knew that she carried sadness within her—I didn’t know that it was eating her alive.

Olive’s Ocean leaves you with this idea: that each person has an impact on others, no matter how large or small. Just remember: you matter. You are here, and someone else has noticed. If you were to disappear, someone will miss you.

Image Credit: Dynamic Wang

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