I am going to be honest, I'm not one of Jennifer Holm's biggest fans. Don't get me wrong, I book talk her books, put them on recommended reading lists, and buy them for my daughter (who is a huge a fan), but her writing style is not my particular cup of tea. I was really surprised then to find myself enjoying The Fourteenth Goldfish as much as I did.
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?
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a story about life and how it is in constant flux. At the center of that story are Ellie and her grandfather, Melvin. Ellie has just started middle school, a time in one's life when it never becomes more clear that life is all about change. Her best friend has moved on to a different group. Everything is different and she is constantly having to adjust. Into all this change comes her grandfather in the form of a 13 year old boy. He wanted to find a way to roll back time. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As Ellie is caught in the first truly great phase of change in her life when everything is new, her grandfather is caught in a desperate bid to stop time, life, and all that change.
The science and the sci-fi element is not nearly as important to the story as the relationship between Ellie and her grandfather. Through their shared time together as Melvin once more has to negotiate middle school, Ellie learns a lot about herself and science. She also discovers more about her grandparents and her mother by watching the interactions between Melvin and her mom. The Fourteenth Goldfish is truly a story about family, growth, identity, and life exactly like all of Holm's historical fiction is. But this time I think she does it all so much better. That may be because the one thing that drives me crazy about her other books is the juvenile actions and attitudes of all the adults. Here Melvin does sometimes act juvenile, but it is understandable given his situation. The other adults conduct themselves the way adults ordinarily do, making it easier for me to read. I think Melvin's true age plays into this some too as he is desperately trying to regain something that can not be regained. The moment Ellie realizes this is a beautiful one and the most poignant moment of the book. Holm did an excellent job with the themes in this book and bringing it all together.
I am sure this will be a huge hit among kids, even more so than her historical fiction as readers will be drawn to the intriguing concept and the weird thought of being the same age as your grandparent. My daughter read my ARC and loved it, reading off lines every other page and giggling non-stop.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. The Fourteenth Goldfish goes is available August 26th.