The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
Released June 9, 2011.
Mike takes care of his father, who is a rather absent-minded mathematical genius. But Mike is definitely not mathematical, despite his father’s hopes. When Mike’s father decides to send him to spend the summer with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania to work on an engineering project, Mike sees it as a way to finally prove himself to his father. Mike discovers far more than an engineering project when he arrives. In fact, there is no engineering project at all. There is his wild-driving nearly-blind aunt, his uncle who is so deep in mourning over the death of his adult son that he can’t move, a homeless man who has good business sense and is willing to give the shirt off his back, literally, and a tattooed and pierced girl who needs a family. He finds a town that is working on a project to adopt a boy from Romania, a boy that Mike realizes is very connected to him in a personal way. Mike has a lot to learn this summer, just not about engineering.
Erskine is a chameleon of an author, changing her tone, her writing style to match this lighter novel that has a strong, meaningful core. The humor here ranges from subtle to laugh-out-loud funny observations and asides. At its heart, this is a book about a boy who doesn’t know his own strengths or his own worth, because it can’t be measured mathematically. It’s a book that is steeped in math down to its chapter titles, but at the same time speaks to the knowledge that humans and their abilities sometimes don’t add up logically.
This is also a book about loss and grief. It’s a book about handling what the world has given you either by giving up altogether or by continuing on. It’s a book about connections, building them, creating them. And about how the hardest connections to create can be the closest ones.
This is a funny, light book that reads quickly and will stun readers by being far deeper and more meaningful than they would have ever expected. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from the author.
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