Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

A Drop in the Ocean is one of those rare novels that you read to get to the intriguing ending while the journey leading you to that climax offers fascinating characters, fine descriptive passages, and the beauty of an exotic locale. Only an author like Jenni Ogden who has degrees in both zoology and psychology and who has lived off the grid on an island off the coast of New Zealand could write this novel. The story begins when Anna Fergusson, a neuroscientist, leaves Boston when the funding for her Huntington’s disease research dries up after many years. Anna’s just turned 49 and she’s an introvert with a capital “I.” Losing her funding means losing her identity as she has very few friends and avoids romantic entanglements. After a friend shows her an advertisement, she impulsively moves to a cabin on a remote island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for one year where she plans to write a book based on her research and figure out what to do with the rest of her life.

Turtle Island isn’t the quiet oasis Anna expected to find. In addition to nesting sea turtles and a plethora of colorful and noisy birds, it’s the home of islanders who coax her out of her own shell. Pat, a woman in her early sixties, soon becomes her friend and guide. Pat understands Anna’s fear of snorkeling too far from shore because Anna has told her about her father having died when she was twelve when they were on a diving trip in Belize. So Pat is careful to show Anna beauty near the safety of the sand.
“We were over a ring of corals – red, orange, white, and fluorescent blue – and immediately below me was a large anemone with two clownfish backing in and out of the poisonous tentacles, warning me off. A shoal of black-and-white-striped fish floated by, and their name floated through my head from all those years ago – moorish idols. Nipping at the corals were myriads of other small fish: silver, blue, striped, yellow, orange, red.  I focused on a white-and-yellow fish and tried to remember the pattern of black stripes crisscrossing its side so I could look it up later. One of those impossible butterfly fish. Dad’s voice again.”

Tom, the quiet, single-minded turtle whisperer, attracts Anna with his attention to the turtles, his humor, and his determination. She seems to be falling in love him and with island life, but all isn’t as it appears. Both of them have reasons to hide in their shells and those motives will have readers flipping the pages to see where they lead them.

Anna’s Boston friend had suggested her destination partly because she knew that Anna’s deceased father was Australian. Anna’s search for his roots offers a side story that enhances the novel. When Anna drives to the area where her father grew up, she finds:
“A stream chuckled quietly alongside the track and a skylark was singing somewhere in the blue. Ghost gums were scattered randomly across the paddocks, their brilliant white trunks indescribably beautiful in the winter light. As I slowed to negotiate a large puddle, a white and yellow cloud of sulphur-crested cockatoos erupted out of a tree and flew into the air, their loud screeches echoing around the valley."

A Drop in the Ocean will keep readers guessing about the ending until the last page and the epilogue offers possibilities for an endless and spirited book club discussion. The well-defined characters, especially Morrie, a portrait of joie de vivre despite his handicaps, set this novel apart from other “escape from life” narratives. It’s easy to see why it won a Gold Medal IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award). Choosing this title for your book club will please both those looking for summer escape and those who want something with heft to discuss. This debut novel is available both as a an original paperback or in an electronic edition.

Summing It Up: Read A Drop in the Ocean to enter an exotic world on a remote barrier island where a woman encounters her fears and endeavors to find herself.  Relish the rich, evocative sentences that offer a Technicolor view of island life teeming with exotic species. Learn about the lives of nesting turtles. Explore a remote island through characters whose inner lives show in their actions and development in the capable hands of an author who brings her own experience in clinical psychology and living off the grid to life in this poignant tale.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast/Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Awards: Gold Winner, IPPY Award, 2016 for Australia/New Zealand – Best Regional Fiction
Author Website:
Interview with the Author:
A Reading Group Guide is contained in the novel.
What Others are Saying:
“Reading A Drop in the Ocean was everything a reading experience should be, endearing and enduring, time spent with characters who seem to be people I already knew.”  —Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times #1 best-selling author of The Deep End Of The Ocean, Oprah’s first book club choice

 "A novel about turtles, the fragility of life, and the complexity of love, A Drop in the Ocean will transport you to remote islands with its lyrical natural imagery. This is a story to savor, discuss, and share.”
—Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of The Perfect Son

“In A Drop in the Ocean, protagonist Anna Fergusson learns that love is about letting go. Jenni Ogden takes us on a sweeping journey, rich with unique characters and places, moving backward and forward in time, to reach this poignant and heartfelt lesson.” —Ann Hood, New York Times best-selling author of The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, and The Obituary Writer

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