Tag Archives: Kathryn Erskine

Review: The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike
By Kathryn Erskine
(Philomel, Hardcover, 9780399255052, June 2011, 256pp.)

The Short of It:

Laugh-out-loud funny.

The Rest of It:

When his father takes a teaching job in Romania for the summer, fourteen-year-old Mike is sent to a town he affectionately calls, “Do Over” so he can stay with his grand-aunt and uncle known only as Moo and Poppy.

Moo and Poppy have their own issues. They’ve recently lost their grown son Doug, and Poppy spends his days sitting in his chair, staring at the TV and eating nothing but Scrapple. Sitting in a chair all day wouldn’t be too bad, but there’s a project that the entire town is relying on Poppy for, and he’s in no shape to complete it. Having no other choice, Mike steps in to save the day.

There are some very serious issues contained within its pages, but The Absolute Value of Mike addresses them with humor. The small town feel and the relationship between the town’s inhabitants is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but also very sweet.

I had just begun to read this when The Boy took it out of my hands. He is not a reader, but after reading the opening paragraph, he declared that he would read it after me. Wha?? The Boy said he wants to read it? Wha?? It took a moment for that to settle in.

Isn’t that saying something though? This is clean tween reading. No vamps or zombies here. Just Porch Pals, a car named Tyrone and a Romanian orphan looking for a home. Although it’s geared towards tweens, I enjoyed it too.

Erskine’s name might sound familiar to you and that would be because she also wrote Mockingbird, which I reviewed here.

The Absolute Value of Mike is an Amazon Best Book of the Month and has been chosen by Indie booksellers for the Summer 2011 Kids’ Next List.

Source: Sent to me by the author.

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Review: Mockingbird

By Kathryn Erskine
Penguin Young Readers
April 2010

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.

The Short of It:

Mockingbird is at once heartbreaking, sad and hopeful. It takes you by the hand, leads you down the path of love and loss and never lets you go.

The Rest of It:

Mockingbird is a special, little book. After Caitlin’s older brother Devon is killed in a school shooting, Caitlin and her father struggle to make it through their grief but they are constantly reminded of Devon and can’t seem to find closure. If that isn’t difficult enough, Caitlin suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome so what she sees is often black or white and nothing in between. What makes this story so special is that it’s told  from Caitlin’s point of view. This means that when she feels overly anxious about loud noises or finds herself unable to read someone’s expression, we hear or see it from her perspective.

When I first picked this book up, I found it a tad hard to follow. Caitlin’s thought patterns are a bit jumbled and it takes a little bit of time to find the rhythm in her words, but when you do, you can’t help but feel her pain. She loved her brother. He was the only one in the family that “got” her. He anticipated her needs and without him around, she is forced to reassess how she communicates with others.

Here is a quote from page 21 which is where she wants to enter Devon’s room even though she’s been told not to:

I wish I could go in and say Devon, I’m hungry, and he’d grin and his dimples would show and he’d say, You and me both, and we’d go find Dad and order a pizza because it’s Thursday and we’d eat warm drippy extra cheese pizza in front of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

The other thing to note, is that all the dialogue is italicized. I got used to it and it did not detract from the story at all. Seeing things from Caitlin’s point of view was an incredibly powerful experience. This book is geared towards young adults but I think anyone reading it will be drawn to Caitlin. In one sense she is terribly complex but at the core, she is like any other eleven-year-old. She wants to be understood, she wants to fit in and she yearns for friends like any other kid her age.

Mockingbird is a quick but important read and if you’re wondering if there is a connection between this book and To Kill a Mockingbird, there is, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

Mockingbird comes out on April 15th but you can pre-order it now.

Source: This ARC was sent to me by the publisher via Shelf Awareness.