Kevin Henkes Writing Styles in Olive's Ocean

Kevin Henkes
This Study Guide consists of approximately 29 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Olive's Ocean.
This section contains 940 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Point of View

The story is written in third person from a limited perspective. The story is presented entirely from Martha's point of view. This limitation is not a real problem for the reader because the focus of the story is Martha and her emerging maturity. The reader is given information as Martha gets it or as it occurs to her. For example, Olive has already died when the story begins but there's a chapter that details the reactions of Martha and her best friend, Holly, upon learning of Olive's death. Another important aspect of the perspective is seen when Jimmy Manning kisses Martha. She believes that Jimmy cares about her and the kiss catches her somewhat by surprise. Immediately following the kiss, Martha learns that Jimmy's motivation in kissing Martha had been a bet made between Jimmy and his brothers. Vince also knew about the bet ahead of time. The fact that Jimmy, Vince and the other boys knew about the bet prior to the kiss is not revealed to the reader until after the kiss. This presentation of information is appropriate. The reader feels sympathy for Martha's having fallen into the trap and knowing about the bet ahead of time would have lessened the effect on the reader. The third-person perspective and the limitations are appropriate and acceptable to the story.

Setting

The story has several distinct settings. The most important are Godbee's house, a house known as the Benton Place, and the nearby beach. Each is described in some detail. For example, Martha stays in a particular room each time she visits with Godbee. That room is painted yellow. Details such as this help make the settings more real to the reader. Another interesting description of the setting is seen when Godbee fills all the baby food jars with colored water. The filling of the jars, the placement on the windows, and the effects created by the jars of colored water are described in some detail. Another specific setting is the Benton Place. Martha and Jimmy Manning go to the stables at the Benton Place which is used only seldom. It's in this setting that Martha and Jimmy kiss. Two other important settings are the site of Olive's accident and the front porch of the house where Olive had lived. Martha expects there to be something significant about the site of the accident to mark the tragedy that had occurred there. When she goes to Olive's house and finds that Olive's mother has left, Martha sits down on the porch and paints Olive's name using an old paint brush and the water she'd brought back from the ocean. The final setting of major importance to the story is the beach. Not only does Martha have a great deal of fun there, it's also where she was standing when she slipped and fell into the water. The near-drowning is important because it gives Martha the sudden knowledge that her life is not guaranteed and that she could die, just as Olive did.

Language and Meaning

The story line is fairly straightforward but the writing is flowery and sometimes difficult to follow. The structure of the book also impacts the language and meaning in some instances. The writer does not adhere to general rules of writing such as sentence length. For example, chapter 54 is titled "Sea Creature" and is just more than a page long. The entire chapter is two paragraphs, one very lengthy that takes up the entire first page of the chapter. This paragraph is a single sentence that's a page in length. In that paragraph Martha outlined her intention to get out of sight while Jimmy Manning passed by. She says that she'd been "wanting to disappear, but then she actually did disappear." The remainder of that sentence/paragraph is devoted to Martha's panicked struggle to survive. The author describes the "tentacles" of her ponytail spreading out after she was submerged "like a sea creature jerking about wildly." The description of this situation is extensive and conveys to the reader Martha's feelings which become one of acceptance rather than fear. The overall theme is one of hope. The overall theme is one of hope though Martha goes through periods of hurt, anger and doubt to find that sense of hope.

Structure

The story is divided into sixty-eight chapters. The chapters vary in length with the shortest being less than a page. The longest are not much more than five to six pages in length. For example, chapter fifty is titled "Confirmed" and this chapter is a total of two paragraphs, each only one or two sentences in length. The first paragraph is a single sentence in which Martha re-reads an entry from Olive's journal. The second is two sentences indicating that Martha has "confirmed" her plan and that she feels better for having done so. Chapter forty-nine, by contrast, is six full pages. The action in this chapter covers a short period of time in which Lucy and Godbee meet up in the kitchen in the middle of the night. The chapters are numbered and titled. Most of the titles are only one or two words though there are exceptions. The titles reference something that's happening in that chapter. For example, chapter fifty-one is titled "Lellow," which is how Lucy pronounces "yellow." In that chapter, Lucy points out the baby food bottles filled with yellow food coloring as being her favorites. The story flows in chronological order with a single exception. After Olive's mother gives Martha the page from Olive's journal, Marta recounts a conversation with Holly when the girls had learned of Olive's death.

This section contains 940 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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