Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Posted August 25, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. HolmThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Genres: Fiction, Humorous, Middle Grade
Published by Random House, Random House Books for Young Readers on August 26, 2014
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley


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?

Make this one a 7!
A special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Books for providing me with this eARC.

“To the possible!”

My Take
Oh. My. God. Get this book. Do not pass go. Do not wait for that $200. Just go get this book! It’s hysterically funny with a wry sense of humor, an easy read, and full of life lessons you want your child to absorb. Heck, it won’t hurt you none, either!

So, you may have determined that I absolutely adored this story. And you’d be right. What’s astonishing is that this story is about science and its joys — and I hate science. I might have enjoyed science more as a kid if I’d read this when I was in school, for Holm makes you look at science in a whole new light. To realize how much it affects your entire life. And I don’t mean those science-y kind of parts. I’m talking about cooking, and come to think of it, it’s about doing laundry as well, lol. I had a couple days with one of my sisters a few months back, and she noted how much her chemistry has helped in taking stains out of clothes.

Ellie may not be interested in drama for a career, but she’s got the talent for it down pat. Right along with her disapproving grandpa who represents the mad scientist quite well. As for Mom, oh, yeah, you only need to read her spur-of-the-moment story to explain her young cousin’s appearance to know she’s good!

You will crack up as you read the new kid’s complaints. It’s such a disconnect to hear cranky old man whines coming from a thirteen-year-old! Holm gets it just right with Ellie’s responses — both verbal and mental — which are exactly what I’d expect from an eleven-year-old! Contrasted against Melvin’s remarks, you can’t help the giggles.

Science is all about solving the puzzles.

Grandpa makes science fun, he puts the wonder in thinking about it as he poses questions for Ellie about apples and the science of the kitchen.

Holm drops the info beautifully. No dumping, just integrated information that feels so natural. THANK YOU! Yes, I adored her lead-in for the cooking-as-science segment. Too, too funny.

Another one of those life lessons? Ellie’s observation about the constant arguing between her mom and her grandpa. There’s also that poignant lesson Grandpa picks up. He’s a few years too late, but it is one that may help us grown-ups re-think our goals.

One of the scenes that brings those tears seeping forth is the one in which Ellie helps pack up her grandpa’s clothes . . . and she sees that one-year anniversary card and those slippers set out. And it’s making me cry now as I think about it. Part of it is that contrast with Grandpa’s attitude and then this. It really brings home how much he misses her.

I am not going to agree with any of ’em about Catcher in the Rye. But I will be ROFLMAO over those Halloween costumes. Omigod.

Ellie also learns the down side of science . . . as well as the down side of immortality. About endings and beginning, and how they apply to her mom, Ellie’s friendships. It’s a realization that will drive a spike between Ellie and her grandpa. But it also gives Ellie a new perspective on happy endings, for there aren’t any. There are only happy beginnings; it’s so much more positive.

Oh, I love the imagery of Ellie’s new bedroom design . . . I’m tempted to do it myself.

And that ending . . . lol . . . it is too perfect!

The Story
Your average eleven-year-old’s day, learning the truth about Goldie, hangin’ with the babysitter, and Mom bailing Grandpa out of jail. Only, it’s not the grandpa that Ellie remembers!

The Characters
Eleven-year-old Ellie Cruz has just graduated fifth grade, learned a universal truth about life, and now has a new babysitter. Ellie’s mom, Melissa, is a high school drama teacher while her dad, Jeremy Cruz, is an actor who’s on the road with Les Misérables. Unfortunately, they’re divorced. Ben is Melissa’s staunch boyfriend with degrees from Harvard and M.I.T. Grandpa is Dr. Marvin Sagarsky, a scientist fascinated by immortality with a preference for moo goo gai pan.

Brianna was Ellie’s best friend until other interests got in the way. Momo is Ellie’s lab partner in science; Mr. Ham is the science teacher with the fun ties. Raj is the goth kid who thinks that old Sagarsky is a quack. Ananda is Raj’s older brother. The one with the car.

Starlily was Ellie’s preschool teacher who taught them about the cycle of life. A lesson that didn’t sink in for a few years. Nicole is Ellie’s babysitter with bad timing. Bernadette is the middle school secretary and a friend of Melissa’s. Billy is an Australian diver.

The Cover
The cover is too perfect and covers it all, lol. A lab flask with that fourteenth goldfish fills the cover against a blue, watery background, bubbles rising up, the crucial jellyfish floating in the upper right corner, and Ellie’s grandfather’s mantra curving to fit the base of the flask: Believe in the possible.

The title is Ellie’s realization that her mom has been keeping a goldfish going for seven years. Only, it’s not quite as Ellie thought. It’ll be The Fourteenth Goldfish that sinks the lesson in.

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