Just before she leaves for vacation, 12 year old Martha Boyle is handed a note from a dead girl. The girl, Olive Barstow, had been a shy, quiet girl at Martha's school. Then, a few weeks after school ended, she was killed by a car while crossing the street. In the note, Olive had listed her hopes: to become a writer, to visit the ocean, and to be friends with Martha. Now, while she is staying at her grandmother Godbee's house, Martha is more than a little bothered by the note. She didn't know Olive, yet it seems like they were living parallel lives: she is staying in a house by the ocean and she secretly wants to become a writer. Adding to her discomfort are the facts that she hates her family, her grandmother has mentioned that this might be their "last summer together", and she begins to like a neighbor boy that just last summer she despised! How is a twelve-year-old supposed to deal with all these complications?
This was an easy to read but interesting book. The chapters were really short, and, as a result, time passes very quickly in this story. Martha seemed to be a very real person, as did her grandmother. However, the other characters were a little less-developed. The writing style was very distinctive; short sentences, concise descriptions of actions and ideas or emotions. I expected to be a little more moved emotionally. Martha really is going through a major change, one that I'm sure all girls go through around this age. I was really happy with the kind of person she had become by the end, yet I didn't feel as connected to her as I have to other characters in other books like this. Maybe it's because she was a girl and I'm a guy. Anyway, I think this was a good book. I don't know if other boys will like it, but I know that girls older than 10 will recognize and like Martha and her story!
UPDATE: I read it again recently (4 years after reading it the first time) and enjoyed it a whole lot more this time! I really thought that the author did a good job of conveying emotion without using too many words. I felt that the author was respecting the intelligence of his young readers by writing in a very "grown-up" style. I only knew Kevin Henkes from his "mouse" picture books. After reading this a second time, I am looking forward to reading his other novels for children!