Drawing the Ocean (2006) is Carolyn MacCullough‘s third novel. Like her others it is geared toward a teen audience. But, like most of the books I review here, I can argue confidently that the writing has enough depth to entertain even snobs who refuse to pick up a YA or Children’s novel under any circumstances.On to the actual review:
After moving to a new town with her parents, Sadie is desperate to fit in. Even if certain aspects of her personality seem determined to keep Sadie from calling herself normal with any degree of honesty.
Sixteen-year-old Sadie is a gifted painter. She spends part of every day at the beach, trying to draw the ocean for her twin brother, Ollie. Sometimes Ollie will pop up to keep her company and offer advice. The problem: Ollie died four years ago.
Soon enough, Sadie makes friends Lila, a girl with her own problems to deal with. She also catches the eye of Travis Hartshorn, the popular boy everyone loves. But, in midst of all this, Sadie continually finds herself reaching out to a loner known to the rest of the school as Fryin’ Ryan, begging the question is being normal more important than being a friend?
At its core, Drawing the Ocean is a story about choices. About how certain choices can change everything in an instant. And how the right choice isn’t always the easy one. MacCullough writes about all of these dilemmas masterfully. In addition, she also tackles the issue of dealing with a death in the family. As the story progresses, she shows how Sadie and her family are trying to move on. This becomes an underlying theme throughout the rest of the novel.
MacCullough manages to creates a compelling story without making it melodramatic. In fact, the prose is surprisingly understated. The writing style is what I’d usually call a quiet book; the kind that would be read in a hushed voice instead of a booming one. The novel is also written in the present tense, which gives the narrative a unique quality (even though more and more authors are adopting this stylistic device lately).
More important than the actual plot, though, are the characters that MacCullough has created here. This novel is sparsely populated so that each character matters and is able to become unique. In addition to the storyline, this is a novel that takes a close look at character interactions. She evokes the high school experience in a way that is subtle enough to resonate with everyone.
The characters that MacCullough has created are real, there’s no other way to say it. They’re not the caricatures or cartoon-like characters that are common in comedic novels. They’re not flat. These character are simply authentic, real. That is partly due to MacCullough’s writing style. She focuses on the essential details, the little things people notice themselves in the real world, instead of trying to describe everything. In this way, the novel comes to life not necessarily as it would be in real life, but as a reader would see it in real life. (No review of this novel should stop before saying that Sadie and Ryan might be two of the best characters ever written.)
In summary, this is a great book with beautiful prose, a compelling story, and amazing characters. And it’s one of my all-time favorites. Ever.
Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford