The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine’s middle grade novel Mockingbird, about a girl who has Asperger’s Syndrome, won the National Book Award in 2010. The Absolute Value of Mike is about a boy with a math learning disability whose father is a math and engineering genius and wants him to be one, too. Mike’s father is a little bit annoying, and he seems to be dealing with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s himself. Mike is a talented kid, just not at math and science.

I enjoyed this story about a boy who spends the summer with his extremely eccentric great-aunt and uncle, Moo and Poppy. Mike becomes involved in a town project to raise the money for Moo’s friend Karen’s overseas adoption of a boy named Mischa. Then, somehow through a series of improbable events, Mike ends up in charge of the money-raising project. He also manages to nag and yell at Great Uncle Poppy enough to pull him out of his depression brought on by the recent death of Poppy’s and Moo’s adult son. And fourteen year old Mike drives Moo’s car, gets Gladys to sing on video, and organizes a town-wide Do Over Day (the town is called Do Over).

Mike’s relatives and friends take quirkiness to whole new level as Mike spends the summer ostensibly helping get Mischa home, but really figuring out how to deal with his dad’s expectations and his own growing self-knowledge about his real talents. It’s a good story, and Ms. Erskine is an author to continue to watch for good, engaging stories about out of the ordinary middle school/teen characters. She has a new book out (September, 2013) called Seeing Red. I think I’ll look for a copy at the library.

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