12-year-old Olivia (Liv) is starting her family’s annual summer vacation, but this year is very different because her father is staying home. OUT OF MY SHELL, by Jenny Goebel, follows Olivia as she pushes boundaries, mourns the break-up of her family, and tries to help a loggerhead sea turtle lay eggs in a safe spot. Divorce, coming-of-age, human impact on sea-life, and navigating changes in friendship all factor in to the story. Each chapter is headed by a fact about sea turtles that is loosely connected to what Olivia is going through in the story. Out of My Shell will interest middle-grade readers who love sea-life, turtles, and summers at the beach. The focus on protecting the sea turtle’s habitat will encourage conversations about the responsibility humans have to the environment and animal-life.
Olivia’s passion for helping sea turtles is consistent and passionate throughout the novel. Her actions towards the new owner of a neighboring resort and her secret nightly visits to the beach show a true-to-life characterization of a girl balancing grownup independence and the passion of childhood. When she is confronted with seeming apathy and scorn, Olivia’s surprise and righteous indignation may feel familiar to some families. Her trip to an aquarium for information and her contact with a sea turtle rescue will also help readers understand that there are organizations and institutions working to make positive changes to counteract and regulate human impact on natures life cycles. In addition, the chapter headings have interesting facts to spur deeper research and further reading about sea-life.
The overriding emotional story in Out of My Shell centers on the separation and eventual divorce Olivia’s parents have recently discussed with her and her younger sister, Lanie. The need for and benefits of open communication and involving children in decision-making are repeatedly emphasized via Olivia’s inner monologues and emotional pain she tries to coverup. Family dynamics between generations and siblings are also illustrated in a realistic way and to dramatic effect. Olivia’s relationship with Lanie is portrayed well in its sibling frustrations and evolution.
A strength in the narrative is Olivia’s exploration of her independence and her hesitant but open and changing relationship with her summer friend Aiden. The portrayal of awkwardness in young relationships on the path to adulthood is true-to-life and touching. And the family instability Olivia is experiencing is reflected in Aidan’s own experiences, as are their shared desires to hold on to the traditions and comfort of long-time friendships.
At times the impetuous decisions Olivia makes feel out of place. However, when juxtaposed with the adults and their own thoughtless behavior, it all comes together. Again, in all the relationships, the importance of open communication and sharing.
Out of My Shell will appeal to middle-grade and young teen readers interested in nature, activism, family disruptions, and summer adventures. Recommended for ages 8-13.
Review by Kristin Wald