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The Fourteenth Goldfish Paperback – April 5, 2016
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“This is top-notch middle-grade fiction with a meaty dilemma, humor, and an ending that leaves room for the possibility of a sequel. “
Booklist starred review, July 1, 2014:
"A great choice for book groups and class discussions as well as individual reading."
New York Times Books Review, August 24, 2014:
"“Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities, and – oh yes – goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2014:
"Holm’s writing is crisp, accessible, and well paced, and her enthusiasm for science and its impact emerges clearly and consistently but not overbearingly, with clear, appreciative nods to the world of theater and its purpose in our lives. Indeed, this novel explores weighty elements of human existence with a light touch, allowing readers to engage with the issues at multiple levels; an excellent appendix of recommended readings encourages exploration and dialogue. This novel would make an ideal classroom read aloud, particularly to expose students to the rich and rewarding STEM fields."
About the Author
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Ellie is your average 12 year old trying to survive middle school. Her single mom is dating again, her friends are drifting apart, and she's not sure what she's good at or what she wants to do in her life (since her parents' theater careers don't interest her). But one day, her life is turned even further upside down when her mom comes home with a teenage boy in tow....and said teenager is actually her grandfather. Thanks to one of his latest experiments, Ellie's Grandpa Melvin has discovered a "fountain of youth" formula to turn the elderly young again. Pretty soon, the two find themselves bonding with and understanding each other in ways they couldn't before. But the more Ellie takes an interest in science, the more she begins to learn that all experiments have consequences, both good and bad...and that maybe turning everyone young forever ISN'T such a good idea after all.
The story starts off a bit more juvenile; treating the situation more like a wacky, fun comedy, with Grandpa Melvin still acting like an old man in a teenager's body. Even weirder, the rest of his family don't act nearly as shocked as one would expect--as if taking care of their de-aged grandpa is just an annoying inconvenience than anything earth-shattering. This attitude nearly made me dismiss the book as just a funny idea for young kids. But thankfully, I kept with it, and as time went on, the plot slowly started to turn more serious as the full implications of what Melvin's done comes to light. Is regaining one's youth really worth it if it means upsetting the cycle of life itself? And are there certain things that only an older person can understand and enjoy more than the younger generation can?
It's our two main characters who, through their discoveries and experiments, drive the point home. Melvin starts off as a bit of an unlikeable, stubborn grouch, but very slowly changes as he gets to know his granddaughter. We get tiny peeks into his home life, and one can quickly figure out that he's far more lonely than he lets on--desperately missing his deceased wife and willing to do anything to be recognized. And by him trying to integrate himself into his granddaughter's school, the obvious generation gap is explored. At first, it's funny, but then turns more thoughtful as it becomes clear that some people never change, and refusing to move forward in life will only hurt yourself and others. This is made all the more clear when we watch Ellie discover the parallels between art and science, and how it can be wonderful or terrifying in the right or wrong hands. As she goes on a personal journey of self discovery, she'll realize how much possibility life has to offer, and that growing older isn't such a horrible thing if you carry the right attitude. And by the end, she, Melvin, and the audience are faced with a question---is the world really ready for a fountain of youth? Or will keeping everyone young actually hold the world back? How can you make room for the new if the old doesn't die or fade away? Or as Ellie puts it, "If everyone's young, who's going to be the grown up?"
I'd rate this at a three and half stars, but since Amazon can't do half stars, I've rounded it to four, as it gains points for turning insightful towards the latter half of the book. Though it starts off silly, if one is patient and sticks with it, the reader will be rewarded with a profound lesson straight out of one of the best episodes of the Twilight Zone. This is a great book to introduce kids to all sorts of famous scientists, and explore themes of being responsible and considering the consequences of one's discoveries.
And while there's nothing wrong with girls liking English (as I did all throughout school) or music or art, there's also something fantastic about showing girls in love with science. It's scary how easy it is to internalize that girls don't like math or science or aren't good at it. And yes, in my case that's actually true, but how much of that has to do with the fact that we're subtly taught that we suck at it? And how easily that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?)
I loved Ellie and her family (her parents are both artistic and Ellie never really thought of herself as being into science until she and her grandfather start doing these experiments together). And I especially love her grandpa who (God love him) stays elderly even when he has the body of a teenager.
I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by Jennifer L. Holm.
However, in the midst of this unrealistic plot, the reader gets introduced to several important historical scientists including Oppenheimer, Salk, Einstein, and others.
My daughter read this in school with her 6th grade class. She enjoyed it very much as did her classmates. So the storyline is of interest to middle school kids. And with some educational value hidden within the story, you can't go wrong with this book.
Top international reviews
One fine day, two things happen- Ellie's babysitter quits, and Ellie's mother gets an emergency call from the police. She gets back from the station with a crabby teenager in tow, who seems both familiar yet unknown at the same time. But when he opens his mouth to criticise Ellie's mother, Ellie realises that its her grandfather Melvin, who has managed to find a way to reverse ageing, and is now a thirteen year old boy. Since he has been charged with trespassing (he has been trying to get into his lab, not realising that a teenager would not be allowed inside a sophisticated laboratory) he has to stay with Ellie's mother as his guardian. Ellie's mother promptly appoints him as Ellie's babysitter, which means that Ellie and Melvin spend a lot of time together every day.
Melvin might have the body of a teenager but his mind is still that of a seventy six year old scientist. So there are grumbles and bickering every day between him and Ellie's mom. But Ellie and Melvin form a unique friendship of their own. Melvin tells Ellie stories of great scientists like Galileo and Oppenheimer and how scientists believe in the possible- that is, they believe that it is possible to come up with solutions to what appear as insurmountable problems, and hence, they never give up. These stories make Ellie realise that she has found her passion- science.
Melvin is dead set on announcing his groundbreaking achievement of age reversal so that he can win the Nobel prize. But as Ellie's life slowly changes-she and her best friend drift apart due to diverse interests, she makes friends with a boy whom she would never have imagined being friends with, finds the confidence to have get onto the dance floor and have some fun- she realises that life is MEANT to change. You cannot hold on to it, you must go with the flow. You cannot reverse life or hold on to youth the way Melvin intends to do.
To know whether or not Ellie manages to convince Melvin, and to know the story behind why the book is called The Fourteenth Goldfish, you will have to read the book! :)
Recommended for children aged 11-13 years.
science will change and you will look at the world differently.