In a novel as tender as his acclaimed Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Olive's Ocean, Henkes probes the psyches of two boys facing family conflicts. Spending long, lonely days at his grandparents' lakeside home, 12-year-old Mitch Sinclair has plenty of time to brood about his parents' impending divorce and to plot against the family of "intruders" who have moved into his favorite spot, the house next door that he assumed was abandoned. What Mitch can't know is that the newcomers have been shaken by tragedy, the drowning of a child in the lake eight years ago, and their stay is destined to be short-lived. Mitch becomes friends with 10-year-old Spencer Stone, the elder of the surviving children, and as trust builds between them, the boys risk exchanging their family secrets. Tranquil Bird Lake serves as an effective setting for this reflective novel, with Henkes alternating between Mitch's and Spencer's points of view. The most remarkable aspect of the book may be the author's ability to isolate the sources of the boys' shared sense of loss and then to express, via easily recognizable and even ordinary experiences, their growing acceptance of what cannot be changed. Ages 10-14. (May)
Two and a half weeks ago, Mitch's dad did not come home. He called to say he was going to live with someone else. Now Mitch and his mom are temporarilyand uncomfortablyliving with his grandparents on the shores of Bird Lake. The house next door is empty, perhaps abandoned, and Mitch daydreams of making it a new home for his mom and himself: "...he swept the stoop and cleaned the birdbath...and carved his initials into the front-porch railing thinking each thing he did would somehow bring him closer to ownership." However, Spencer's family owns the house, and they have not visited it since the summer years ago when Matty, Spencer's brother, drowned. His mom and dad want to check the house out, to decide whether it is time to sell or to make it part of their lives again. Mitch is furious that these "intruders" might end his daydream and he is determined to scare them away. He decides to haunt the house with mysterious ghostly signs. Little does he know that Spencer sees these signs and believes that the long-dead Matty is haunting the house. The two boysone haunted by the present and the other by the pastbecome fast friends. Now, Mitch has to make things right. This is a believable and well-written story of loss and friendship told by two boys caught up in heart-wrenching circumstances. Reviewer: Anita Barnes Lowen
Children's Literature - Anita Barnes Lowen
Mitch, age 12, has come to Bird Lake with his mother to stay with his grandparents, now that his father has left them. He secretly lays claim to the empty house next door, and when Spencer, age 10, and his family arrive, Mitch is angry at these "intruders." He plays tricks on Spencer at first, like stealing his swim goggles and letting his dog off the leash, but finally confesses as the boys edge toward a friendship and he learns that Spencer's younger brother had drowned at the lake some years earlier. That summer friendship, we realize, helps each boy recover from his difficult life experiences. This quiet, beautifully told story deals delicately but realistically with the boys' emotions, and with their conflicting instincts to hide their feelings and to blurt out hard truths. Henkes, whose novel
Olive's Ocean was a Newbery Honor book, captures the essence of a pivotal summer in these boys' lives. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 14.
After his father leaves, twelve-year-old Mitch Sinclair and his mother move in with Mitch's grandparents. Hurt and lonely, Mitch becomes preoccupied with the abandoned house next door, which he imagines is the perfect place to start a new life with his mother. He begins to clean the house and mark the territory as his own, but his plans are foiled when the owners of the house unexpectedly return. Ten-year-old Spencer Stone is apprehensive about returning to his family's house at Bird Lake where, eight years before, his older brother drowned. Spencer was too young to remember much about his brother or the lake house, but he is eager to escape the ever-present "fear of missing something" that overshadows his family's life at home. Told from alternating perspectives, the story reveals how Mitch and Spencer's short friendship begins to heal each other's wounds. Set against the lush backdrop of Bird Lake, Henkes's sensitive novel will be well received by readers who are fans of the careful, slow-paced style of Olive's Ocean (Greenwillow, 2003/VOYA December 2003) and Sun and Spoon (Greenwillow, 1997). Many young readers will relate to Mitch and Spencer's conflicted feelings as they fight the urge to give in to selfish desires because of their growing empathy for others. Henkes's respect for the complexity of these emotions is apparent, even if the characterizations and plot are somewhat unremarkable. Nevertheless the novel embodies the sympathy and kindness of which Henkes is capable when creating young characters dealing with loss. Reviewer: Jennifer M. Miskec
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
Mitch Sinclair's world is falling apart: his parents are selling their home and divorcing. While arrangements are being made, Mitch and his mother move to Bird Lake to live with his grandparents. His grandparents welcome them with open arms, but as time passes, tension develops between his grandparents and his mother. Mitch discovers a neighboring house, vacant, near the lake. He escapes the stress by cleaning up around the house and fantasizing that he and his mother live there. When Spencer, his younger sister and parents show up at the house, Mitch sets out to scare them away with pranks. His plan goes awry, however, once he and Spencer meetthey become close. Mitch reveals his pain about his family breaking apart, and Spencer shares his family's deepest pain: the death of a child years ago at Bird Lake. This is a quiet story about loss and the healing power of friendship. Rich characterizations and sparse language compel the story forward. The ending hints to a possible sequel. Reviewer: Pam B. Cole
Gr 4-7- Temporarily living with his mom at his grandparents' home on Bird Lake, 12-year-old Mitch Sinclair's plans to make the seemingly abandoned house next door his own are shattered when Spencer Stone arrives with his family. Both the Sinclairs and the Stones are in crisis-Mitch's parents are divorcing, and Spencer's parents are returning to the house for the first time since the death of their son Matty, who drowned there when Spencer was two. While each boy is deeply affected by his family's drama, both are powerless to influence its unfolding. Mitch, indignant at the Stoneses' intrusion, attempts to scare them off by creating mysterious signs that suggest a ghostly presence. Spencer observes these signs but chooses not to share them with his family. Eventually, the boys meet and connect immediately, leaving Mitch resolved to set things right. Characters are gently and believably developed as the story weaves in and around the beautiful Wisconsin setting. The superbly crafted plot moves smoothly and unhurriedly, mirroring a slow summer pace. Alternating perspectives between the boys gives readers deep insights into their feelings and actions. The secondary characters, the adults and Spencer's firecracker sister, Lolly, are also fully limned, complex individuals. Henkes creates compelling, child-centric images, excellent dialogue, and a believable resolution, with humor and just the right amount of tension to make this a significant and highly readable book. A "must-have" for every library that serves young people.-Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
Henkes's third-person narrative, in alternating chapters, presents the inner lives of Mitch, 12, and Spencer, ten. Over a few summer weeks, each wrestles with family travail in adjacent houses at Bird Lake. Mitch's father has left the family for a new relationship, and Mitch and his mom retreat to his grandparents' place to recover. Spencer, whose four-year-old brother drowned in the lake eight years before, returns with his parents and younger sister Lolly. At first, Mitch thinks of the Stone family as intruders-he has fantasized that the house next door could be his and his mom's-and tries to unnerve them clandestinely. A misguided prank (he secretly unleashes the Stones' dog and subsequently finds him) weighs heavily on Mitch. Yet, in tandem, the two boys gravitate toward friendship and find, despite their respective psychological distress, a satisfying, if potentially only summer-sized pocket of companionship and play. Through artfully observed details and perfectly pitched dialogue among the boys and clever Lolly, Henkes deftly locates Mitch's pain and confusion, delivering a novel that's quiet, nuanced and redemptive. (Fiction. 8-12)