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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish, written by Jennifer L. Holm. Random House, 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I don't know what to believe. On the one hand, he sounds just like my grandfather. I'm half-tempted to see if he has any soy sauce in the pockets of his jacket. On the other hand, I'm not totally sure I believe any of it. Part of me wonders if this is just some weirdo who stole my grandfather's ring and is tricking my mom. She's a sucker for kids with sad stories."

What might you do when your grandfather shows up at your house in the body of a 13 year old boy? Ellie's grandfather Melvin does just that! He is, after all, a famous scientist, and he has just discovered the secret of aging. A pretty unique jellyfish is key to that secret.

Grandpa Melvin comes home with Ellie's mother after some trouble with the police. He is not what Ellie is expecting. Not all that surprising, he is filled with curmudgeonly advice and happily spouts it to his daughter. How he looks is the big surprise:

"He doesn't look like the typical theater-crew kid. They usually wear jeans and T-shirts, stuff that's easy to work in. This kid's wearing a rumpled pinstripe shirt, khaki polyester pants, a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, and leather loafers. But it's his socks that stand out the most: they're black dress socks. You don't see boys in middle school wearing those a lot. It's like he's on his way to a bar mitzvah."

He has pointed questions to ask of Ellie; that is when familiarity kicks in. Grandpa turns out to be as grouchy as a seventy-six year old can be! Despite his appearance, his opinions and his mannerisms are the magic that make him funny, warm and too often outspoken. This gets him into trouble attending middle school with his granddaughter. Along the way, he encourages an interest in the scientific world for Ellie, makes readers laugh out loud at some of his antics, and ensures that thought be given to the way in which science has implications (both good and bad) for the world.

It is an inspiring read, and a departure from anything that Jennifer Holm has previously written. That being said, she handles it with all the aplomb that a gifted writer can bring to this story of family love, aging, death, science, and goldfish. Ellie is a strong and funny voice, Grandpa Melvin is a worthy mentor to his granddaughter (and very funny to readers), their eventual parting is sweet sorrow - yet, endlessly hopeful.

"Tears prick my eyes. I don't want him to leave.
I grab him, hug him tight.
I love you, " I say.
My grandfather hugs me back, whispers in my
ear, "I believe in you, Ellie. You're my possible."

Ms. Holm leaves her readers with inspiring advice:

"You, too, can be a scientist. Observe the world
around you. Ask questions. Talk to your teachers.
Don't give up....

believe in the possible." 

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