Book Review: “The Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth Goldfish: Holm, Jennifer L.: 9780375871146: Books

Book Details:

Year of Publication: 2014

Genre: Science Fiction (Middle Grade)

Format (How I Read It): Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis:

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?

Book Review

Themes: Believe in the possible. Never give up. Endings are sad but beginnings are beautiful.

Character Development: Considering the main character is supposed to be in middle school, she seemed pretty naïve to me (especially about science). In general, I enjoyed the characters, but I just wished there was more of a focus on friendship (and specifically her relationship with the friend that she was growing apart from) since this was supposed to be a central theme/conflict of the story.

Plot/Pacing: I felt that the pacing of the story was a little uneven. The situation with her grandfather is revealed so early on, and the plot was a little sporadic and all-over-the-place at times, but in general I did find it relatively engaging.

Writing Style: It was a little didactic and heavy-handed at times when it came to background information about science and famous scientists, as well as some of the themes (which felt kind of forced due to how explicitly they were described). However, there was also a decent amount of humor thrown in, which I think young readers will enjoy!

“Bingeability”: Moderate-high.

Emotional Investment: Moderate.

Windows and Mirrors: Girls in STEM. Friends growing apart. Divorce.

Overall Thoughts: I so wanted to enjoy this book! I love how it features science and especially how it features girls being interested in science. That’s just not something you see often in middle grade fiction (or even in adult books, really). However, I just had so many little issues with it. My biggest gripe is just that I truly could not discern who this book’s intended audience was. The main character comes across as being extremely naive about what science is (like the concept was complete foreign to her… as a middle schooler), but then there were several other instances of mature references and language. Toward the beginning there’s a reference to meth (and an insinuation that someone’s parents died in a meth lab explosion?). There’s also a reference to the mom having been “knocked up,” which isn’t a phrase I’m comfortable using in an elementary school classroom. There are also many references to history, literature, and theater that are likely to go over the heads of the supposed intended audience (based on the reading level of the book). I just found it all really confusing.

There were also a couple moments/scenes that bothered me. The main one was that there’s a point in the story where the grandpa essentially says that it’s better to die than to grow old. That sentiment just really bothered me. And yes, the grandfather does grow by the end and likely feels differently, but I think it either could have been left out or phrased in a more tactful way. I have students who have lost grandparents and other loved ones, and I’m sure they would find this sentiment upsetting.

In general, I just felt like there were so many elements in this story, and not enough time was dedicated to anything other than the zany plot involving the grandfather. The storyline about friendship and how friends can grow apart could have been really moving. And there was also a plotline about the mom introducing a boyfriend to the family, so it would have been interesting to focus on what family means and how families can change with time. There was even a budding flirtation/romance which I’m sure many pre-teens would relate to.

In general, it just felt kind of disconnected to me. I believe this is part of a series, so hopefully future books address some of these other plotlines!

Recommendation: I wouldn’t do this as a read-aloud due to some of the more mature language and references, as well as certain themes/scenes that might be upsetting or traumatic to students. I will still keep this in my classroom library as an option for independent reading for more mature readers (or readers who are really interested in science).

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Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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