Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, guys!
Today, I'm reviewing the fun and incredibly smart Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. It's an inventive story about a young girl who learns to appreciate science, family and friends through a very unlikely source!
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via NetGalley
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
It's a wonderfully inventive tale about a girl getting to know her grandfather, but it's also a book that brings up some pretty profound ideas, including examining Oppenheimer's work on the Manhattan Project, and also questioning the ethics of altering the natural order of things.
In other words, it's one of those books that you want everyone to read, but you become concerned that by gushing about a book so much, you'll accidentally turn those others readers off. However, I'm determined to get people to pick this up, so I'll give it a go.
Jennifer Holm introduces us to Ellie, an eleven-year-old who is going through an awkward period in her life. Her dad is out of town, her goldfish has died and her best friend has found another group of people to hang out with, effectively leaving Ellie on her own.
But one day, her mother shows up with a teenaged boy claiming to be Ellie's grandfather Melvin. Melvin has reverted in age because of a scientific experiment involving a jellyfish, and now he needs Ellie to help him finish his work. What follows are hilariously madcap adventures, a new friendship, and a relationship which begins to develop between grandfather and granddaughter, that leads Ellie to realize just what she's good at, and where she might possibly begin to fit in.
Holm's tale of a granddaughter and a grandfather who are able to meet while relatively close in age, is an enjoyable tale for so many reasons, particularly when it comes to the grandfather/granddaughter relationship.
By having the newly-young Melvin appear in Ellie's life just as she's going through a host of difficult events, Holm does a great job of exploring the novelty of what it means to have an adult who does understand what a younger person is going through, something that all readers will likely relate with.
Conversely, as Ellie works with her grandfather to continue his scientific work, Holm also does a wonderful job of showing the importance of having love - particularly familial love - and feeling like you have someone to work with, and inspire in your own life.
Melvin has clearly been lonely since losing his wife, and it's obvious that Ellie's newfound interest in science not only encourages him, but also helps him find the courage to pursue goals that he's put off for many years. There are many strong reminders that it's sometimes the most unusual relationships that help you become even better versions of yourself, and it's heartwarming to see how Melvin and Ellie effect that change in one another.
Outside of Ellie and Melvin's relationship, Holm also does a great job of asking some profound questions on science, and what it means to look beyond one's personal desires, for the betterment of the world. Both Ellie and Melvin pose questions and assertions on the advantages and ethics of certain research, which will undoubtedly encourage readers to think for themselves.
While The Fourteenth Goldfish is a relatively short book at 208 pages, Holm has created such a rich world filled with fun characters and insightful looks at big concepts, I felt like I had completed a thoroughly satisfying journey by the time I got to the final page.
Holm also concludes the book by leaving a hint that she may not be done with Ellie and Melvin just yet, and I sincerely hope that we'll be able to rejoin them at a later point.
Of special note:
Educators and parents will likely appreciate Holm's reminder that it's not only important to pursue your dreams, but it's often that desire to work on your passions that can help lead to some of the biggest, most amazing discoveries out there. It's a very positive message, especially at an age when readers do feel peer pressure to conform.
Jennifer Holm has written a funny, intelligent tale about that transitory period in a young person's life, as they begin to discover what they enjoy and who they're meant to be. Ellie begins the book a little unsure of what she wants out of life, but concludes her tale with a renewed interest in a field that is sure to take her to many different places.
This is a book that will absolutely encourage young readers to dream big, while also hopefully inspiring them to look critically at the scientists, concepts and themes that are discussed in this book. As Jennifer Holm says in her author's note, "...believe in the possible."
I highly recommend this book for fans of Laurel Snyder and Karen Foxlee, but also for reluctant readers. Ellie and her grandfather will inspire all readers to look at the world around them a little differently.
About the author:
Jennifer L. Holm is a NEW YORK TIMES bestselling children's author and the recipient of three Newbery Honors for her novels OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, PENNY FROM HEAVEN, and TURTLE IN PARADISE.
Jennifer collaborates with her brother, Matthew Holm, on two graphic novel series -- the Eisner Award-winning Babymouse series and the bestselling Squish series. She is also the author of several other highly praised books, including the Boston Jane trilogy and MIDDLE SCHOOL IS WORSE THAN MEATLOAF. She lives in California with her husband and two children.