Did you read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate? I told you it was good, didn’t I?! Picture it re-imagined for present day, and you have The Fourteenth Goldfish. Mould and atomic bombs and fish scales and cheese. And cooking and drama. And a 76 year old teenager. If that isn’t the plot of Pulitzer, I don’t what is.
In an attempt to teach her young students about the circle of life, Ellie’s kindergarten teacher gave each child a goldfish. Everyone’s fish died, except Ellie’s. Her fish lived until Ellie’s 12th year. She thought. It turned out that her mother did NOT want her learning about the circle of life, and had been flushing and replacing them as they died. All 13 of them.
Around this time, her 76 year old scientist grandfather came to live with them. Except he’s not 76 anymore. Following years of exhaustive research, he develops a way to reverse the aging process, and is now 13. And the cantankerous senior becomes the crabby teen.
This story is FUN. But so much more than that. Ellie’s new relationship with the grandfather she barely knew, her burgeoning discovery and love of science, and the maturity she gains through her new interests are wonderful themes running through the book.
As with Calpurnia and her grandfather, there is a wonderful relationship that develops between grandfather and granddaughter. In The Fourteenth Goldfish, they are forced to spend time together as Melvin re-enters middle school. But their companionship becomes a choice. Like Walter, Melvin encourages scientific curiosity, showing Ellie how science is everywhere, even in cooking.
She, in turn, teaches him that while growing old might not be fun or easy, all stages of life are there to revere and celebrate, to learn from and pass along the lessons you have learned along the way.
Jennifer Holm writes a really fun, well developed story. The characters come alive easily, and the reader is transported into the novel. Although aimed at 9-11 years old, this book is fantastic for all ages. An easy read for those a little past the teen years, but with some good reminders and life lessons for us.
The Fourteenth Goldfish is published Random House.