A Uniquely Humorous and Human Breakthrough Victory for Science
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Random House Books For Young Readers
Starred Reviews: Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly
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?
With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.
First, let’s talk about the cover. Let’s face it, goldfish and test tubes just aren’t all that attractive. Now that I’ve read the novel, I can appreciate the cover art, but it didn’t draw me in. My anticipation of reading this was tempered by the title and cover. However, since the author’s reputation precedes her, I was undeterred. I’ve never met a Jennifer L. Holm book I didn’t love, and The Fourteenth Goldfish is no exception.
Now, let’s talk about the book! Ellie and Melvin are some of the most interesting people I’ve met in a while. Ellie’s life is in flux. Sixth grade isn’t going so well since her best friend is slowly becoming her ex-best friend. Things get even weirder one night when her mother comes home with a teenage boy who bears a strong resemblance to her grandfather, Melvin. Turns out he is her grandfather Melvin, a scientist who has devoted years of research to searching for the fountain of youth — and, evidently, he’s found it.
Holm has a talent for characterization, and she’s crafted some doozies with Ellie and Melvin. Melvin ranks high on my list of coolest grandfathers ever. Given that he’s at once a cantankerous old man and a teenager who marches to his own drum, he occupies a place all his own. It’s interesting how advanced age creates a non-conformist, individualist attitude that translates into a bizarrely funny yet totally awesome form of swagger. This can be seen in Melvin’s fearless fashion sense. Throughout the course of the book, he wears anything from miniature versions of old-man polyester pants, Ellie’s pink ponytail holder, and, when he has nothing clean, he even dips into his mother’s closet.
Ellie’s a smart girl in a completely believable way. She’s not a geek or a prodigy, but she’s always felt a little out of step since her parents — who’ve split, albeit amicably — are both artistic, creative types. When Melvin comes into her life, she discovers that she does share family traits after all. Turns out she likes to cook, and Melvin shows her how things like food and cooking are actually everyday science. He opens her eyes to the possibilities contained in science and the passionate way that scientists question the world around them. In science, Melvin explains, failure is nothing to fear. It’s failure that results in answers that can eventually lead to breakthroughs. And scientists are willing to risk failure attempting to prove that what others may believe impossible is, in actuality, possible.
The characters who inhabit the pages of The Fourteenth Goldfish are so alive that suspension of disbelief at the far-fetched premise never presents a problem. Indeed, you accept these people and their world with such alacrity that you allow yourself to become completely submerged. Thematically, Holm manages to defy gravity, using humor to make weighty topics like the ethical ramifications of science and the potential downside when it pushes those limits seem light as a feather. Kids will happily plunge in with Ellie as she discovers her passion and gains both new friends and a deeper understanding of the circle of life. And until they turn the last page, they’ll not likely want to come up for air!
— Dawn Teresa
4.5 of 5 Hearts. A Uniquely Humorous and Human Breakthrough Victory for Science.
With its combination of strong characterization and easy humor, Jennifer L. Holm’s latest work, The Fourteenth Goldfish, will have kids — even girls — seeing science and life through brand new eyes.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”