Friday, October 17, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Kid Lit authors don't come much better than Jenni Holm. Her books have fun characters, are kid-friendly, and are filled with great figurative language. You can usually count on some fun history lessons too!

Holm has also had significant success where the Newbery Medal is concerned. She's made the shortlist three times (OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, PENNY FROM HEAVEN, and TURTLE IN PARADISE) but has never brought home the gold. Her track record though, could suggest that it is only a matter of time.

At first glance, Holm's latest novel, THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH does not appear to be your typical Jenni Holm story. Her novels tend to be so rich in setting and developed in a particular historical time period. THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH is technically a work of science-fiction and set in present day. One similarity: it is as character driven as any of her previous novels. Fans of Holm's will not be disappointed.

Ellie is having a rough start to middle school. Her parents have separated and her best friend Brianna is forming new friendships with her volleyball teammates. Ellie is craving companionship but is too proud to admit it. Enter Ellie's grandfather, Melvin. Melvin is a scientist of sorts, obsessed with finding the cure to aging. And he does! In the form of a rare jellyfish that ages backwards. After injecting himself with DNA from the jellyfish, he ages backwards to Ellie's age and is forced to join her in middle school. The result is a heartwarming coming of age story about friendship and the circle of life.

THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH took some time to develop for me. Ellie's snarky voice was vintage Holm right out of the gate, but suspending my disbelief and accepting the quirky premise took a little more effort for some reason. The themes Holm seems to be exploring are so deep yet the plot of this story is rather zany. It wasn't a good match at first. In the beginning, Ellie's grandfather appeared so abruptly and his quick-forming relationship with Ellie seemed more of a plot device than anything genuine. By the end of the novel however, that changed. The relationship between Ellie and her grandfather is by far, the strongest element within the book. With her best friend slipping away, the companionship Ellie is seeking comes from the place she least expects it. The relationship between her and Melvin is heartwarming.

Jenni Holm could teach a fine workshop on figurative language. Her first person, prose always fits her character's voice so well. Take the following few examples for instance:

"Nicole has long buttery hair and looks like she should be in a shampoo commercial."

"Middle school is like one of those highway restrooms in the middle of nowhere. It's dirty and smelly, and it's crowded with strange people."

I also love the relationship between Melvin and his daughter, Ellie's mother. I like the comedic irony in Melvin the teenager, not relinquishing his responsibilities as Ellie's mother's father and in her retreating to the role of caretaker and guardian for her teenager father. Their banter provides some hilarious moments, especially as Melvin accompanies her on a date.

It's amazing how much depth Jenni Holm provides this quirky, absurd, Benjamin Button style story. The themes of friendship, family, and mortality are all expertly explored. On the surface level of this story is this bizarre plot about a teenager befriending her mad-scientist grandfather who has injected himself with a special jellyfish that has caused him to age backward. Underneath the absurdity though, is a touching story about finding yourself and the fragile nature of life.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading your review! I just purchased this book for our library and am hoping middle grade kids will be checking it out!! Looking forward to more reviews!!