Fountain of Youth

What would happen if your Grandfather discovers the fountain of youth….

That is the premise of a new Junior Fiction story set to release next week.

Fourteenth Goldfish
Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Random House Books for Young Readers, Aug 26, 2014

Ages 8-12, 208 Pgs (hardback)

I love my inbox.  Especially when I see “New Book for Young Readers” appear in the title.  And as far as unusual titles goes, the Fourteenth Goldfish is intriguing.  I said cool, clicked on the link and downloaded the ARC from Netgalley and read it in about an hour.  Then sat on the review for two weeks.  You see I also love science.  And this book is all about encouraging kids to get into science after all in the Author’s note Ms. Holm states “You too can be a scientist”.  So good right?  Well, sort of.

Our main character, eleven year old Ellie, lives with her divorced yet happy Mom in a box like house with a toilet that never works.  Her Mom dresses in sparkly and spangled clothing as befits the most stereotypical high-school theater directer.  Ellie’s father is in an off Broadway touring company of Les Miserables and still finds time to stop by and fix the toilets.  Ellie’s best friend is interested in volleyball and not being friends with Ellie, but that is OK.  And the black wearing facial pierced Goth kid Raj is bright and loves science.  But Ellie’s Mother and Father disapprove of science and instead want Ellie to do theater.  With me so far?  It is after Ellie’s Mom drags this teenaged boy home from jail who looks strangely like a younger version of her 76 year old grandfather Melvin, that our story is off and eating dinner.

What should have been a fantastical yarn about a crazy science breakthrough instead feels a little flat.  I mean if your grandfather shows up suddenly turned into a 13 year old version of himself that’s something right?  And imagine going to school again after years spent in a lab as a published scientist?  Instead of running with a story line similar to the movie Big, but in reverse, and including experiments or projects that illustrate a scientific principle, the book turns into mini vignettes with a science lesson embedded into each.  No really, Melvin explains inertia, defines what makes something alive, life cycles, the process of mummification (ok I think Raj does that one), pasteurization, chemistry…usually while eating.  there is a lot of eating in this book.

There is nothing inappropriate or factually wrong in this book and the characters are good for the target age.  It reads fast and is short enough not to discourage younger readers and there are moments that made me smile.  This story has some great points about ethics in science and it probably would make a great discussion book for a lower grade classroom.  So Parents, if you have a younger reader who loves science, then this is probably a good book for you.  But if your child wants action and adventure, this is not the book for them.