Book Review

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher: Random House

middle grade science fiction

“Life is precious because it doesn’t last forever.”

Wow. I just finished this book and I. Loved. It. It took awhile to grow on me but Holm definitely got me in the end.

Ellie is an eleven year old with a divorced mom who is a high school drama teacher. She and her father are still close, her grandmother died when she was young, and she isn’t very close to her grandfather because he and her mother always bicker. He is a scientist with 2 PhDs and isn’t thrilled to have a “creative type” for a daughter.

Her grandfather has been working with a species of jellyfish that can revert to its polyp stage…. actually go back to a younger version of itself. He believes he has found the fountain of youth and does some experiments… on himself! He is reverted back to a smelly teenage boy and comes to live with his daughter and granddaughter, Ellie.

While attending school with Ellie, he sets out to make his discovery known but needs Ellie’s help to do it. They end up learning a lot about each other and about life in the process.

I love that Ellie’s eyes are opened to science by her grandfather, a sort of anti-hero as he is a crotchety old man even as a young teenage boy. Throughout the story important scientific people and events in history are revealed to Ellie (and the reader) through storytelling in a compelling way.

Holm does a wonderful job of capturing the ever present friction between parent and child at all ages and stages of life… even reversed as they are here. At one point, Ellie realizes that her grandfather (as a teenager) treats her adult mom as a child and that her mother responds as an annoyed teenager would.

All the while, these characters learn from each other. Ellie learns many things from her grandfather but also teaches him some very valuable lessons in return. The ability of young readers to see that they can provide value and teach those older than them is very important and demonstrated well here.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Endings are sad. Like goldfish dying and Grandma’s slippers and Brianna and me. But beginnings are exciting. Like discovering something I might be good at and making new friends.”

“Is growing up, growing old – LIFE – is it all so terrible?”

“Life is precious because it doesn’t last forever.”

“He was the fourteenth goldfish.”

This title is great for middle graders with an interest in science or science fiction. Great female lead. I would definitely purchase this title for a public library collection and use it for a tween book club discussion.

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