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Newbery or Not: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Pub Stub: Random House Books for Young Readers, ISBN-10 0375870644, August 2014

Book Blurb: Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer. Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far? Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?”

Author Tidbits: Holm, Jennifer L. Three-time Newbery Honor recipient for Our Only May Amelia (HarperCollins 1999), Penny from Heaven (Random House Books for Young Readers 2006), and Turtle in Paradise (Random House Books for Young Readers 2011). Also well-known for her work on Babymouse and her series Boston Jane.

Newbery or Not: Will Holm land the gold this go-round? Maybe. I would bet she at least goes Honor again. The blurb is slightly misleading; the boy in the story is definitely Ellie’s Grandpa Melvin, and he has definitely found the secret to eternal youth. That’s the setup, no mystery to it. However, now that he’s a 13-year-old, Ellie’s stuck spending a lot of time with her grandfather since her mother can’t stand his insistence on telling her how to live her life, especially now that he’s rewound himself into teenagerhood. To Ellie’s surprise, she and Grandpa actually have a lot in common. She’s always tried and failed to be interested in theater like her parents. As it turns out, she’s inherited Melvin’s scientific aptitude instead. Beyond the obvious comedic value of an old geezer going back to middle school, the book poses the age-old ethical dilemma, “How far should science go? When does a scientific discovery cross the line from improving humanity’s quality of life to going too far?” Dealing as it does with immortality, it actually hearkens somewhat to Tuck Everlasting. Now, is it substantial enough to land the Newbery? Maybe not. Still, I would love to see it recognized. “To the possible!”


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