Adult Books for Teens: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ocean lane

“‘Oh monsters are scared,’ said Letty. ‘That’s why they’re monsters. . . .  As for grownups. . . .  I’m going to tell you something important. Grownups don’t look like grownups on the inside either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is there aren’t any grownups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’”

The narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is back in Sussex, England to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farmhouse at end of the lane through his memory of the girl who once lived there, Lettie Hempstock. As he stakes out a spot near the duck pond, he remembers that Lettie once called this an ocean. Through memory, he dives in, and takes the reader through its magical and metaphoric depths.

And while magic is afoot, a great deal of it is pure evil. That is, from the narrator’s point of view. Lettie dismisses monsters as creatures who just do what they were created to do. But what they were created to do is deadly business.

As a child of seven, the narrator gives up his room to a boarder, an opal miner from Australia, who takes the family car down the lane and commits suicide. This event unleashes the dark character of the world and it immediately goes to destroy the boy and his family. Its first incarnation appears as the most benign of creatures, Ursula Monkton, the pretty young seductress, who is hired as the narrator’s nanny. “She was power incarnate . . . she was the adult world . . . and all its foolish casual cruelty . . . huge and greedy.”

Whatever their form, there is no escape from creatures who would devour the very earth, except through hanging on to Lettie, who, though she appears to be eleven years old, seems to have existed from the beginning of time. Her friendship is an awesome force of good, and along with her mother and grandmother, she is fiercely loyal.

Gaiman is so great at hair-raising, spine-tingling horror that he has no need of the bloody-slasher cheap thrills. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception to this fact, but it is more than excellent horror.

I was so infatuated with The Ocean at the End of the Lane by the end of the story that I didn’t want to start another book the next day—not to read, not to listen. I had dreamed of the past because of the novel. I want to make clear that I’m not talking about the nightmares that horror will sometime bring.     Just about loss—the inescapable kind that aging brings—and the necessity of forgetfulness. In this work, Gaiman pulled me back to King’s Stand by Me and even further to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes—not so much through style or subject, but in emotional resonance. All draw out that same longing that will leave you pensive for days.

Genius. A treat on so many levels. Enjoy.

High school housekeeping: This is a great choice for high school students. It’s got excellent writing that both you and your teacher will appreciate, and a story that will rivet you to your seat—you won’t be able to put it down. Plus, it’s short, so if you’re busy with a lot of homework, it won’t be an issue. And you know Gaiman from his children’s stories. Take your pleasure with those and times it by ten. You’ll love, love this one. Read it.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
This entry was posted in Family Problems, Fiction, Horror/Mystery/Suspense and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Adult Books for Teens: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

  1. I loved this book. There are so many things to enjoy. There’s the mystery of childhood and of growing up. There’s the exploration of ancient powers that lie just beneath the surface world we frequent, some of them good, some of them evil.

    I read pretty much everything that Gaiman writes. Coraline was another one of my favorites.

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