Book Review: Into the Blue by Pene Henson


Tai Talagi and Ollie Birkstrom have been inseparable since they met as kids, surfing the North Shore of Oahu. Now they live with their best friends and Ollie’s kid brother in a pulled-together family, all of them piled into a run-down beach house. They share cooking, bills, and the saltwater running in their veins. They might have no money, they might argue, they might be in dead end jobs, but they live in Hawaii so it’s always summer. There’s always time for one last wave.

Tai’s spent years shutting down any feelings for Ollie. They’re friends. Their family depends on them. But with Ollie off on his first world tour, with Ollie’s dreams of a pro surfing career finally within reach, their steady world shifts. Is it worth risking their friendship, their family, their dreams for a chance at something terrifying and beautiful and altogether new?


I know next to nothing about surfing. I don’t live near an ocean, and my most recent exposure to surfing culture was watching Jonah Markowitz’s Shelter after it came out on DVD. (Watch it if you haven’t; it’s incredible.)

But it wasn’t hard for me to get into this book, which touches on a lot of themes that resonate with me: friendship, chosen family, and figuring out what you want in life. Tai meets Ollie when they’re thirteen, and they soon become best friends held close by their shared love of the surf. Tai is immediately smitten, and by sixteen he realizes he’s in love, but he never really considers that he might have a chance with Ollie, who only has eyes for the ocean. When they’re eighteen, Ollie’s mom dies, and his younger brother Jaime gets sent to a relative for foster care. But she doesn’t know how to deal with the troubled young teen. So Ollie, Tai, and two of their good friends from high school agree to live together and help Ollie raise Jaime. (It took me a while to figure out whether I was supposed to pronounce Jaime’s name the Spanish or Portuguese way, but given that one of the friends always calls him “James” and there’s significant Portuguese history in Hawaii, I finally decided on the Portuguese version.)

Tai dates and fools around with other guys, but his love for Ollie always simmers right under the surface. Meanwhile Ollie, distracted by his responsibilities and depressed from an injury that kept him out of surfing competition, has no room in his life for romance.

That is, until Ollie decides to take a risk and compete again. Suddenly he finds his heart wants to take a risk, too.

Henson’s writing is simple, straightforward, and wonderfully lyrical. If you’ve read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, you will know the kind of thing I am talking about: short words and simple phrasing that don’t seem like they should be beautiful, and yet they are. Her prose has a wonderful musicality that propels the reader through even the emotionally toughest scenes. And though I am a surfing ignoramus, her straightforward descriptions helped me understand most of what was going on out on the water.

Readers looking for exceptionally written new adult romance with diverse, well-drawn characters will love riding the waves of this kindhearted romance.

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