Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
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?
After reading a ton of titles for the #SVYALit Project, a little bit of a lighter read was definitely needed and this middle grade title fit the bill perfectly. Recent stats have shown that younger girls show an interest in math and science but as they get older, around middle school age, the interest begins to wane. So while there are currently more females enrolled in college, I think the statistic I saw yesterday said 60%, there are more males enrolled in science and tech fields in college. So I loved the emphasis that this title placed on science and how our main character, Ellie, developed a slowly budding interest in science.
Born to very theatrical parents, Ellie has grown up in a house that emphasizes the arts. Her grandfather, however, is a scientist. In fact, her grandfather may very well be the teenage boy on her doorstep who claims to have found a way to reverse the aging process. The only problem is, the key to his research is now locked away in a lab that he can’t get access to, because people don’t really let teenagers wander around high tech labs doing that type of research.
The two of them, aided by a new friend, repeatedly try to break into the lab to steal a key part of the research while they navigate middle school and eat a lot of Chinese food.
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a great, fun read about finding yourself, allowing yourself to be open to change, family, and friendship. And along the way, there are some interesting science facts sprinkled throughout the story. The humor of the story is balanced with some very real and deep questions, including questions about the ethics of science (just because you can do something does it mean that you should?) and thoughts about death, change, and allowing others to be who they are. I love that it is Ellie who grows in wisdom and challenges her grandfather to ask what would happen in the long run if nobody ever grew old.
This is a really great read. Touching, humorous, thoughtful and fun, Holm introduces us to characters that are a delight to spend time with. It is a sheer delight to see this wise, intelligent scientist wrestle with things like acne and the cafeteria while spewing out his cynical, scientific rhetoric.
The Fourteenth Goldfish comes out later in August 2014 from Random House Books for Young Readers. It has already received several starred reviews, including stars from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly and Holm has an established reputation – she is a repeat Newbery winner – and fan base. You can’t go wrong with this title. Read it together as a family if you can. ISBN: 9780375870644
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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