The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (2014)
Suggested age range: 10 and up (Random House Books for Kids, 208 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: e-ARC from Net Galley
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley & Random House Kids in exchange for an honest review.
The Book: Ellie is eleven and in middle school. Transition is difficult in itself but throw in the sudden arrival of her grandfather at her home, and things are even more complicated. That’s because he’s thirteen years old! As a famous scientist, Melvin has successfully reversed the aging process through his discovery of a jellyfish compound, dubbed T. melvinus. So Ellie is essentially going to school with a teenager who has a 76 year old brain. Ellie and her friend Raj decide to help Melvin break into his lab in order to safeguard the compound, and if they accomplish this, perhaps the world will finally have its “fountain of youth.” What ensues is a humorous adventure in which Ellie discovers more about herself, the changing nature of friendships, and the value of love from family and friends in the midst of growing up.
Spirituality in The Fourteenth Goldfish: The book’s ability to make the reader consider the realm of the “possibles” in the world of science is one of its highlights. I, for one, think that the relationship between spirituality and science is a relevant one. Especially when you get into quantum physics. I’ll save that for another post though. What I want to say is that some points and themes in the story leave gaps for spiritual ideas to poke through. For example, the cycle of life is important and the way that cycle runs is significant—if we have the power, should we be able to alter that? Should we play God? Such questions raise what could be heavy issues with readers.
Who Should Read This Book: Fans of When You Reach Me or A Tangle of Knots would get this title as a reading option from me (were you in my 6th grade classroom). The journey of a girl navigating the beginnings of middle school and also harboring a great secret (her grandfather who has discovered how to reverse aging is a teenager living in her home) is one that I think many readers of fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. I also think there are some cool events that could coincide with this text—jellyfish research and fountain of youth creations and even lunch at a Chinese restaurant where segments of dialogue could be read from the book in a reader’s theatre presentation. Don’t ignore the ‘possibles’ with this one!
The Final Word: Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newbery honor winner, and this novel’s unique premise is reason alone to delve into the world of middle grade science fiction, if that’s not your normal cup of tea. If you found a fountain of youth, would you take advantage of it? If you could have your grandparent live with you, but as a teenager, would you say yes? You might never have to answer either of these questions in reality, but they’re amusing to think about. This story is charming, but it also gives science nerds something meatier to read as well. Readers that aren’t as interested in science might get a little bogged down at times, and there were a few points where I wanted more to happen faster, but all in all, I enjoyed the story and was satisfied with its conclusion. I’m especially drawn to middle grade novels that highlight enduring themes like this one: “Never ignore a possible.” Challenge accepted.