Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike - Kathryn Erskine

Summary:  So Dad has shipped me off to relatives I don't even know because he wants me to work on this engineering project and become a genius, like him.  Well, guess what?  I have math learning disabilities!  Besides, what engineering project?  Poppy (my great-uncle) is frozen to his chair and communicates only by throwing slippers.  And Moo (his wife) feeds a cat clock and watches imaginary movies in her car, "Tyrone," which she's too blind to be driving anyway.  And then there's Gladys...she's this amazing, cool, super-gorgeous punk rocker with stage fright...um...where was I?

Oh, right.  I know all Dad cares about is the engineering project, but everyone in town is working on a much more important project: adopting an orphan from Romania.  Now that's my kind of project.  I've got to whip this town into shape and raise like $40,000 in three weeks!  Yup, that means getting Gladys to sing, Poppy to move, and Moo to give up Tyrone.

Just don't tell Dad!  I'll have to deal with him later.  (Summary from  - Image from http://www.kathrynerskine.com/)

My Review:  The Absolute Value of Mike tells the story of Michael Einstein Frost, the not-so-smart son of a scientific genius.  Ever since the death of his wife, Mike's father has retreated into his research while fourteen-year-old Mike takes care of the house, bills, and himself.  When his dad leaves for an extended business trip, he sends Mike to stay with relatives and help with a engineering project that will ensure his placement in a top engineering school.  

When Mike reaches the town of Donover (re-named Do Over by the townspeople) he discovers that the "engineering" project is not what it seems and his relatives are anything but normal.  They're old! And a little bit crazy!  Poppy is glued to the couch, living on scrapple and mourning the not-so-recent loss of his son.  Moo has a big heart, but is blind as a bat and vacuums whenever she cries.  They are dirt poor, with no electricity, and the crazy doesn't stop there.  The entire town is populated by a delightful cast of zany characters:  Past, who lives out of a shopping cart and works on a park bench; Gladys, a tatted up bank teller with vocal aspirations; the town's version of the Three Stooges, Guido, Jerry, and Spud; and many more. 

Most of the time I loved this wacky story and its quirky characters, but occasionally I longed for the story to be a little more believable and take itself a little more seriously (a little more like her previous novel, Mockingbird).  However, as the story started to wind down, I realized that this book goes a lot deeper than its humor or its characters.  I absolutely loved watching the Mike's attempts to goad Poppy into action and his interaction, and eventual reconciliation, with his father. 

Ultimately, The Absolute Value of Mike is a fun, feel-good read, and a story about the many manifestations of love, the importance of family, and finding your individual worth.  It might be a little far-fetched, but I felt it was well worth the time it took to read.

My Rating:  4 Stars (If this were an adult novel, I'd probably give it somehwere in the high 3's)

For the sensitive reader:  Some biblical profanity (you know that joke about what happens when you "ass-ume" things?) and typically male comments about Gladys' figure.  This is a children's book, so I didn't particularly care for either addition.

Sum it up:  A fun, feel-good read.

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