Posted in children's books

The Absolute Value of Mike, by Katherine Erskine


Mike is, in his own words, a fourteen-year-old “math moron.” Given that his father is a math genius who teaches at the University, this is pretty serious. But Mike lives alone with his Dad, and takes care of him. He can’t do things like other fathers: make toast, find his car keys, or pay the bills. Mike’s most immediate problem is being sent away for six weeks to help his ancient great-aunt and uncle with some science project in rural Pennsylvania while his father teaches a seminar in Romania.   Great-aunt Moo meets him at the airport, white hair sticking straight out from her head, wearing yellow duck sneakers, and the summer goes downhill from there. Mike’s Uncle Poppy, still in shock from the death of their son four months ago, sits glued to the living room chair. The smartest man in town lives on a park bench. This could be depressing, but Mike’s ongoing inner and outer dialog is laugh-out-loud funny, and the darkness recedes.  He tells his story with great humor, panache and heart. As Mike gets drawn into the town’s scheme to adopt a small boy from – where else – Romania, the various storylines get pulled closer and closer together, like the strings on Moo’s hoodie. National Book Award winner Erskine (Mockingbird) weaves a magic spell in this snugly constructed novel. While the premise of a young teen being sent off to crazy relatives is not exactly original, the quirky characters virtually pop off the page, and the absolute value of the story ends up being much more than the sum of its parts.

Philomel, 2011, Ages 8-12.




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