The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Published: April 5, 2016 by Yearling
A Guest Review by Kelsey Iwanicki
Summary: The Fourteenth Goldfish follows the story of Ellie, an 11-year-old girl, who is currently struggling to find her passion, especially following the gradual drop off with her one and only friend, Brianna. However, everything changes when her mother brings home a quirky and crabby 13-year-old boy, Melvin. Ellie notices striking similarities between Melvin and her seventy-something year-old grandfather until he comes clean and tells her that they are in fact the same person. Melvin has worked on developing a drug to reverse the signs of aging, which has successfully worked on himself.
As Ellie and Melvin get closer, they also form an unlikely friendship with a goth student, Raj. Together they give Melvin advice about being a teenager, such as giving him acne medicine and hair elastics. They also help Melvin eventually, after a few failed attempts, steal the same compound that reversed his age. Melvin’s original plan was to steal the gene so he could share it with the world and receive the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Ellie persuaded him not to on the grounds of moral ethics and how scientific impacts can be both positive and negative. Due to this, Melvin flushes the compound down the drain and starts to tour the country. Thanks to her time with her grandfather, Ellie is able to discover his passion in science and also gain a few friends along the way, Raj and Momo.
Review: What I liked most about this book was its quirkiness, mostly exemplified through Melvin. Although the relationship between Ellie and Melvin is untraditional, you can also get glimpses of a typical relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter is like, one that isn’t usually written about. The majority of characters are nontraditional, such as Raj, who is explicitly written as goth; Ellie, a girl scientist (although this is becoming more popular, usually boys are the ones in the STEM fields); and Melvin, as a grumpy 13-year-old.
What I didn’t like about the book was the build-up. Although they failed multiple times at stealing the compound, there was no suspense for when Melvin actually succeeded. Rather, he just came home one day with it. The climax actually was when Ellie had a self-realization that science has both positives and negatives, which honestly was kind of a let down because the plot had focused around getting the compound from the lab. Ultimately, it was a good theme because Ellie realizes there are good and bad things with any passion.
All in all, I did like the book, I think it could appeal to students who are interested in science and realistic fiction books.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book should definitely be included in a classroom library for independent reading because I think it would appeal for students because it is a little quirky and has some interesting characters. It could also prompt some interesting discussions for literature circles because students could discuss the ethics behind using a compound to reverse aging.
A teacher could also use it as a read aloud for a few reasons. It would be interesting to consider the other perspectives of characters such as Melvin or Melissa, Ellie’s mother. Additionally, they could talk about the character traits and what makes Melvin and Ellie such strong characters. Or, they could talk about science and ethics behind what scientists release.
Discussion Questions: If you had a compound that could reverse aging, would you take it? Why or why not?; If you discovered a compound that could reverse aging, would you deliver it to the public? Why or why not?; What do you think will happen to Ellie and Brianna’s friendship? Ellie and Momo’s?; What do you think the side affects are from taking the compound? / What do you think happened to Melvin?; Put yourself in Ellie’s shoes, how would you feel if your grandfather attended the same school as you?; What is the importance of the fourteenth goldfish?
Flagged Passage: “Average people just give up at the obstacles we face every day. Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don’t give up, because we want to solve the puzzle” (p. 47).
Read This If You Loved: El Deafo by Cece Bell; Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin; Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
Thank you, Kelsey!