The Fourteenth Goldfish

downloadA science fiction tale but not the kind you are thinking of. Yes, there is a scientist with an experiment that has had interesting consequences but this is more a coming of age novel with a twist and one girl finding out an interst in science.

Ellie’s parents are divorced and both theater folk. Ellie is not enjoying the changes middle school is bringing. Her best friend has become more and more involved with sports and therefor more distant. And now a long lost cousin, Melvin, a middle school boy has come to live with them for a time.

It’s not giving anything away to let you know that Melvin is really Ellie’s grandfather. He’s been experimenting with reversing age through cellular regeneration and has seemed to have been successful.

There are many fun Freaky Friday moments with Ellie’s mother and young grandfather having role reversed arguments about if he can use the car (no) or if he has to go to school (yes).

But Ellie begins learning about her grandfather as a person for the first time and becoming more and more interested in science. He name drops famous scientists throughout the book and she latches on to them, finding them and science in general more interesting that her parents love of theater. But that’s not to say science comes off better than the arts. Big are appreciated and have their effects on the characters in different ways.

Holm packs a lot into such a brief and mostly light hearted tale. Loss, regret, parent/child roles and relationships, the changing nature of friendships. When change is good and bad and how hard it can be to hold onto the past.

The only thing I found unrealistic was Melvin’s supposed age. (I’m fine suspending my belief in the age reversal thing.) My daughter is the same age as Ellie and my father is the same age as Melvin. If he were instantly made into a middle schooler right now, he wouldn’t act as “old fashioned” as Melvin. Melvin sounds more like someone from my grandparents generation, not my parents. My dad would be fine wearing jeans and sneakers and wouldn’t expect people to “dress for dinner.” If my mom had died and he kept his house like a museum? It wouldn’t look like it was from 1975. I don’t know, maybe Jenni Holms’ is channeling her grandparents. It’s fine. It probably also makes for a better contrast and more humor in the book the way it is. But it was just something I noticed.

It’ll be interesting to see who goes for this book in my school library. The cover isn’t gender centric but because of Babymouse more girls will check it out than boys. It’s not quite as funny as Turtle in Paradise. That book has a very girly cover but I’ve convinced many boys to get past that and they have and have liked it. But this seems more for the 5th graders. The kids who like Telgemeir’s Smile will definitely enjoy it.

It’s great to see an author showing a young girl becoming interested in science without becoming heavy handed. In the afterward Holm talks about her fathers own interest in science (he was a physician) and points to further reading on the scientists mentioned in the book.

Oh, and the goldfish. Ellie’s hippyish preschool teacher gave them a goldfish (“to learn about the cycle of life”) but she found out in 5th grade that her mom had been replacing them over the years and when Ellie finally discovers a dead fish she learns that it was actually the thirteenth one. She likens her grandfather’s desire to change the cycle of life to being the fourteenth goldfish.


One thought on “The Fourteenth Goldfish

  1. I had a succession of red-eared goldfish. The grandfather’s “old-fashioned” attributes did seem a bit off, but at least there were no hippie parents. Now we have to move on and have hippie grandparents!

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