Review Detail

Kids Fiction 546
Trying new things
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Ellie's grandfather Melvin, who turned himself into a teenager in The Fourteenth Goldfish, has gotten tired of traveling and has returned home. He's antsy, not being able to drive, and not having fun with "the Puberty" since he is always tired, hungry, and can't tell everyone he has TWO PhDs. To make him happy, Ellie convinces him to join her in a science fair project, which gets him into the new science labs. Experimenting on fruit flies with a specimen of an axolotl that seems to have grown two more legs. Will feeding bits of the animal to the fruit flies cause them to regenerate? In the meantime, Ellie has to deal with her mother, who is a drama teacher busy with plays, and her stepfather, who designs video games, and also visit with her father. Her best friend, Raj, (who knows the truth about Melvin) starts to look more attractive to Ellie, and the two go on a movie date, which doesn't go well, and Ellie has to realize that they are really better off as friends. Her former best friend, Brianna, is friendlier to her than she has been, which is a nice surprise. Sadly, not all changes are good ones, and when Ellie's cat Jonas is hit by a car, she and her grandfather are not able to save him. Even though the science fair doesn't go very well, the experiment with the axolotl has some unexpected consequences.
Good Points
The characters are delightful and wonderfully nuanced. Ellie has a lot to deal with, but does really well... most of the time. She becomes sidelined by the sort of things that can happen to many middle school students-- friend trouble, boy trouble, and the death of a pet. These are all real concerns that can be devastating to young readers and should be treated as serious. I liked that the mother was around and concerned but also had her own life. Melvin... Melvin is great. His budding romance with the local librarian made me cry!

The science fair is a nice touch, since it is a very common occurrence in middle school that shows up rarely in the literature. While this is primarily science fiction (due to Melvin's experiments with turning himself younger), there are also a lot of good science topics covered. Holm has an interest in STEM topics, and teachers are always asking me for books that include science, so I'm always glad to find new ones.

Younger readers might be warned about the death of Jonas. It was handled well, but it was a bit odd that we don't know quite what happened. Was he hit by a car? I realize that this was so that they could inject him with the axolotl and have some hope, but it was an odd note in an otherwise upbeat title. .
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