The Absolute Value of Mike
Fourteen-year-old Mike, a mathematically-challenged young man with dyscalculia, unfortunately has a brilliant engineer/professor father. Mike is forced to live with relatives he has never met for six weeks in summer while his father teaches in Romania. Mike’s father hopes that his son will improve his math and engineering skills by working on a local project. Not only are Mike’s octogenarian great-aunt Moo and great-uncle Poppy from a different generation, they are eccentric, humorous, and dealing with the death of their adult son. Mike and his father lost Mike’s mother two years earlier in a car accident, and coincidentally, many people Mike meets in Donover (nicknamed Do Over), Pennsylvania, are struggling with loss. A homeless man, “Past”, has also lost his wife, and is not truly homeless, but afraid to go back home. Moo and Poppy are unbelievably making his house payments. Moo saves water in rain buckets around the lawn and recklessly drives a monster car even though her vision is very poor. Mike has no time to sulk, once he is thrown into the town’s problems. He rises to become an organizing and motivating force to help the town raise money to bring an orphan boy home from Romania to be adopted by the local childless, widowed minister. Poppy is immobilized by the death of his son and Mike works on stimulating him to return to his workshop to build boxes in order to raise money. Humor and a constant flow of events keep readers glued to the pages. Though a somewhat contrived plot with everyone dealing with private issues, the story is a wonderful read showing how a teen can develop self-confidence and become what he is meant to be. Mike is a social people engineer in sharp contrast to his self-centered father. The chapter headings reveal basic mathematical concepts that relate to the story. This is a funny, satisfying read for ages 10 and up. Author Kathryn Erskine won the 2010 National Book Award for her novel Mockingbird.
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