The Fourteenth Goldfish
Jennifer L. Holm
Release Date – August 26, 2014
Source: E-ARC from NetGalley
Guys, I have a confession to make. Before this week, I hadn’t read anything by Jennifer L. Holm. I mean, other than a couple of her Babymouse graphic novels. But I don’t really count those. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how it’s even possible that I’ve managed to miss her THREE Newbery honor books. I mean, I’ve read a lot of Newbery books. But somehow I’ve managed to miss all three of these.
Anyway, I’m trying to make up for it now by alerting you to the presence of her newest book, the upcoming The Fourteenth Goldfish. I had the opportunity recently to read an ARC of this fantastic middle grade novel, and now I’m wondering why I never took the time to read the others.
The Fourteenth Goldfish tells the story of Ellie. Ellie has just entered sixth grade and is dealing with the change that middle school brings. For example, her former best friend has joined volleyball, leaving no time for Ellie. Her babysitter abandons Ellie for a new job at the mall. And to top it off, Ellie’s mom comes home one evening with a teenage boy in tow, a boy who claims to be Ellie’s grandfather. As a scientist, Melvin Sagarsky claims to have found the “fountain of youth” in a certain specimen of jellyfish. But after becoming younger and losing access to his lab and work, he is forced to become dependent on Ellie and her mom. Hilarious antics ensue and life lessons are learned in this heartwarming and affirmative novel.
One of my favorite things about The Fourteenth Goldfish is its emphasis on science. There are far too few novels for kids that encourage them to pursue science and math. The Fourteenth Goldfish did a great job of showcasing some of the seminal moments in science history, as well as the brilliant minds behind those moments. The book brings science and history to life and makes them fun and exciting. It also affirms Ellie’s choice to enjoy science as opposed to following her parents’ footsteps and pursuing the creative arts. This would be a great novel to pair with science lessons or to hand to young readers who are starting to express an interest in science.
I also really liked Holm’s characters. Quirky characters are my favorite, and there are plenty on tap in this book. Ellie’s parents, who really love theater. Teenage Grandpa Melvin, who only wants Chinese food and tends to borrow clothes from Ellie’s mom. And Raj, the Goth boy who becomes a close friend to both Ellie and Melvin.
My major qualm with this book is that it seemed very…light. I was able to read through it very quickly. The story was good, I loved the bits of scientific history thrown in, there were small smatterings of action. It seems very smartly researched and written, but it still ended up just feeling a bit shallow to me. I don’t mean to disparage the book by insinuating that it wouldn’t make one think or feel. Instead, I just wish the book held more depth. More character development, deeper themes, etc. But I understand that it’s intended for younger readers, and I think it will do an admirable job of sparking curiosity and encouraging learning.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Fourteenth Goldfish, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to younger readers or fans of Holm’s other books. All said and done, I predict that this will be another hit.