Monday, June 12, 2017

Middle Grade Fiction Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm


Title: The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House, 2014. 194 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

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?

My Review: 
I wasn't quite sure what I thought of this at first. The premise is a little silly, and it kind of put me off by a combination of realistic middle-school issues and this over-the-top science-fiction element. And works. Halfway through, I just sat down and read the rest, because I did want to know how the characters would cope with what I was seeing as a problematic discovery. Ellie's grandfather is so certain that he has found something that is going to revolutionize the world--and it might. He has to do some growing up to figure out whether that's a good thing or not.

That's right: the character that I saw as needing to grow up and come to a better understanding of the world wasn't so much Ellie--who seems pretty on-track for middle school, though she does get to grow up some and learn some new things--as her 70-something grandfather. Holm has a lot of fun with Melvin's actual and apparent ages, and how he manages to be both a teen and and old man at the same time. And that leaves this possibility that he can learn as much from Ellie as she can from him.

In the end, the book convinced me. It was a fast, fun read, with maybe a bit of food for thought. Though one part of that thinking involves the question of scientific discoveries and the impossibility of stuffing toothpaste back in the tube, as it were. Can a scientist control his own discoveries, and the uses made of them? And should he? Holm doesn't really address those questions, and I doubt many kids will, either, but they are there, lurking under the surface.

My Recommendation:
A fast and easy read for boys and girls from about 9-12. Those with an interest in science might be more attracted, but it's a story that might also generate some interest among those who think science is boring. It might even generate some interesting discussions.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Fourteenth Goldfish out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


  1. I think Grandpa is typical of some obsessive scientists who are dedicated to a meaningful cause. Dynamite saved thousands of lives in the mining industry... never thought of it as being used for bad causes. It's the innocence of some scientists that lets the genie out of the bottle - or make you want to stuff the toothpaste back in the tube (never thought of that!)
    I loved it, but yes, it's not perfect. Then again, who is? And if it gives kids something to think about, all the better!

    1. It clearly gave us both something to think about, so that's something, too!


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