Jenni Ogden's novel, A Drop in the Ocean, engaged and delighted me on several levels. First, there was the story itself, which I would classify as a romance for those of us past the gushy, feet-off-the-ground, naïve stage. As an old broad who has lived three-quarters of a century on the planet, I'm way past that. But I'm still not too old to be moved by a complicated, deep and passionate love affair that transcends stereotypes.
Second, it touched the wanderlust in my soul. Who hasn't dreamed of living on a tiny island for a year? That's what Anna Ferguson, the book's main protagonist, does at the age of 49 when she loses the grant money that supports her research work on Huntington's disease.
The book's primary setting is a tiny island located over Australia's Great Barrier Reef, where Anna will live in a tiny, primitive cabin and look after a little used campground. The island is also home to a few other residents, and is the nesting grounds of sea turtles and birds, including thousands of wedge-tailed shearwaters and brown noddies. I'm an avid nature enthusiast and birdwatcher, so for this reason alone I found the book interesting.
Ogden brought the island to life with her words, letting me walk the beaches with Anna, and letting me see the turtles as they laid their eggs before scuttling back to sea before the tide was too low for them to reach deep water. In the same way, she let me see the colorful fish, the coral and the white-tailed reef sharks as she snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef.
But the book's real treasure is how island life changes Anna, whom since having a college love affair that went wrong, had put a shell around herself, and spent almost all her time in a sterile lab with no time left over for relationships. A Drop in the Ocean is about breaking through that shell and learning to trust and have meaningful relationships, not just with a man, but with an older woman who befriends her, and a younger, unmarried and pregnant one whose child she helps deliver while a cyclone is raging outside.
The book is also about coming to grips with misconceptions about parents when finally seeing them through adult eyes and not those of a child. It happened to me at about the same age as it happened to Anna.
Finally I enjoyed this book because I learned things I didn't know before, especially about turtles and about Huntington's, a genetic disease that devastates families. Isn't learning new things what reading is all about?
Jenni Ogden, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and author of Trouble in Mind: Stories from a neuropsychologist's casebook, the text, Fractured Minds,and over 60 scientific awards. A Drop in the Ocean is her first novel. In July, 2015, the International Neuropsychological Society recognized her work with a Distinguished Career Award. Visit her website.
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