Title: The Absolute Value of Mike
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Pages: 256 pages
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. c2011
Reviewed from ARC furnished by author
Release Date: June 9, 2011
Since I realize ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) are not the finalized book and can go through the editing process still, I figured I’d quote from GoodReads.com rather than the ARC itself. The cover image was also taken from GoodReads.com.
Mike tries so hard to please his father, but the only language his dad seems to speak is calculus. And for a boy with a math learning disability, nothing could be more difficult. When his dad sends him to live with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania for the summer to work on an engineering project, Mike figures this is his big chance to buckle down and prove himself. But when he gets there, nothing is what he thought it would be. The project has nothing at all to do with engineering, and he finds himself working alongside his wacky eighty-something- year-old aunt, a homeless man, and a punk rock girl as part of a town-wide project to adopt a boy from Romania. Mike may not learn anything about engineering, but what he does learn is far more valuable.
Okay, be prepared for some family issues. Mike’s great-aunt is named Moo (as in the cow) and is as blind as a bat, but not ready to admit it. His great-uncle is named Poppy (like the flower), and is so overcome with grief by his grown-up son’s death that he stares at the blank television all day, every day. The town project involving adopting this Romanian boy gets put on the shoulders of Mike since no one else is really all that competent at putting things together. The colorful cast of characters in a small secluded town reminded me of Gilmore Girls. Moo especially came to life to me as the stereotypical grandmother. I heard Moo’s voice in my head.
I read a portion of it to a group of fifth graders, doing a grandmotherly voice for Moo, and I felt like a rock star being able to read from a book that hadn’t been published yet. When I told them I was going to raffle it off and give it to one lucky student, the class went crazy. I was a little concerned about some mild swearing. It’s not like it’s the f bomb or anything like that. But when I grew up, “crap” was considered a swear word. My cousins (ages ranging from 10-13) have assured me that no, “crap is not a swear word.” When that changed happened, I don’t know, but I haven’t been able to adapt my thinking to that attitude. So I will admit I was a little concerned.
But the story is a team-work tale, showing the power of working together. It doesn’t matter that Mike isn’t a great architect like his father, because he organizes the rag-tag group of towns people. And while the ending leaves readers wondering if they really will be able to accomplish their goal, I like where it leaves off because the other plot points become resolved. Something different than Mockingbird, but still satisfactory.