review: Drawing the Ocean
Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough. Roaring Brook, 2006 (1-59643-092-3) $16.95
It was interesting to read Drawing the Ocean right after This is What I Did: because there are some general plot similarities. Both are about teens who are trying to fit in at a new school while burdened with guilt over feeling that they've betrayed someone they loved. The approach in each book is very different though, and could make for a provocative comparison study. In Drawing the Ocean, we have a more muted, elegantly told story, quite involving in its own way.
Sixteen year old Sadie is haunted: though her family doesn't talk about her twin brother Ollie, he's always there. In a nickname her father can no longer bear to use, in the fear that overtakes Sadie's mother whenever Sadie's in a car without her, in Sadie's compulsion to draw the ocean over and over. He even talks to Sadie, which is especially odd, since he's been dead for four years. "We were twelve," she remembers. "Part of me will be twelve forever. All of you will be."
Still, Sadie is determined that moving will be a new start for her. "I had spent long dreaming hours on how to fit in at my new school. How it would be a chance to start over and not be that weird girl anymore who was seen talking to herself sometimes and was way too into art. I had to make friends early and fast. And act normal. I was positive I could do it." And Sadie pulls it off; she hooks up with Lila, who knows all the social rules and is happy to share them in exchange for copying Sadie's homework. The most important rule: stay away from "Fryin' " Ryan, a deliberate nonconformist who's the school outcast.
When Sadie attracts the attention of football star Travis, her social acceptability seems complete. But somehow she is unable to avoid encounters with Ryan, discovering the vulnerability he hides behind his uncaring facade.
A quiet, observant narration by Sadie brings this book fascinating characterizations. Through her eyes we see that though Ryan is sometimes smug and a bit of a poseur, he is undoubtedly truly desperate about trying to survive high school with his sense of self intact. Even enigmatic cool girl Lila has intriguing depths and a need for true friendship. There are a few notes in the story that rang false to me, and the ending seemed to wrap things up too quickly, with Sadie's guilt over Ollie's death suddenly reaching a resolution while at the same time she makes a decision about herself and Ryan. It is in keeping with the generally low-key atmosphere of the story though, that the resolutions come without much drama, just with intelligence and feeling. (14 & up)