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I am a middle school English teacher and mom of three, ages 16, 12 and 7. I am currently revamping our school's summer reading list. I just read this book, hoping to include it on our new reading list. I think it is well written and deals with a number of different issues from the perspective of a 12 year old girl.The author allows us to see things through Martha's eyes, such as death and family relationships.For me, the most gratifying parts of the book were interactions between Martha and her wise and kindly grandmother, affectionately known as "Godbee."
I often hesitate to share my recommendations because every child is different. Some are more mature than others so parents need to make decisions with that in mind. I personally feel that "Olive's Ocean" is geared toward readers 12 to 14. There is some profanity ("as#hol#s, shi##y, prick") and a situation where a 14 year old boy bets his brothers and friend that he can get the 12 year old main character, Martha, to kiss him while he films it. She is crushed when she discovers he basically used her to win a bet. This could provoke some good conversations with middle school kids.
There is also a description of Martha's parents kissing in the kitchen and she thinks about how her brother refers to this as "MSB"-Morning Sex Behavior. "When they do it in the morning," Vince had informed Martha earlier that summer during one of their nightly chats, "they're all giggling and kissy and weird for at least an hour afterward. It's unmistakable." Although this was a very brief part of the story, I found it to be awkward and not helpful in developing either the story or the sibling relationship. Again, that's just my opinion and I'm sure others may disagree. As with anything, I think parents need to be aware and make informed decisions about what books are best for their kids.
This novel was well-written and engaging. While the initial premise seemed a bit somber, overall the book is very life-affirming and positive. The main character and her family are portrayed realistically and the themes take it beyond just a fluffy read. It would be a good one for class discussions as well as independent reading for grades 5 and up.