Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
"Endings are sad....but beginnings are exciting."
This is one of those books I was invited to read via Netgalley. When I received the invitation, I did not realize this was a middle grade book, so that revelation was rather surprising. This was a cute book with lots of great messages for middle grade readers, but it definitely requires a great suspension of disbelief (probably much easier for the intended audience to do).
Ellie is eleven and about to enter middle school. At the start of the book, her mother is called away to pick up her grandfather, who has been arrested for trespassing. This is where it enters a bit of a sci-fi realm. Ellie's grandfather, Melvin, is a scientist and he finally had a breakthrough with his latest research project - reverse aging. Unfortunately, the project worked a little too well, as he now appears to be a 13-year-old boy. Now he has to live with Ellie and her mother and attend school with her, despite that he possesses the mind of a 70-something year-old man.
As an adult reader, the premise gave me pause if only because Ellie's mother did not seem to have any reaction whatsoever to her father's dramatic change. No one questioned it at all. The few people he told simply accepted it. Then the little subplot about his lab and the company he worked for, there were some holes there - why did no one wonder where he had gone? How could no one know of this research, etc?
But those are questions an adult might ask, and this is not a book for adults. Poking holes in this fantastical story misses the point.
In actuality, these ideas go along with one of the book's themes - believe in the possible. When imparting wisdom upon a middle grade reader, it's important to encourage imagination and "the [im]possible", so as to fuel new ideas and dreams.
Ellie's parents are both very theatrical and interested in drama and theater, but Ellie has never had much interest in that subject. They tell her to find her passion, but, like many parents, suggest that she should be passionate about their passion - theater. I thought it was a great message to send to kids that they find their own passions in life, regardless of what their parents love.
Enter Melvin, who doesn't have much use for theater, but is a big fan of science. Through their interactions, Ellie learns about a whole world she's never been exposed to, and she finds her passion in it.
It was very clever for Holm to use Melvin as a way not only to unlock Ellie's passion for science, but also as a way for Ellie to realize that there is so much that her elders can offer - friendship, knowledge, wisdom - that she might otherwise ignore (because let's face it, western kids tend to write off their elders as, well, old). Making Melvin appear her age really gave her a way to relate to him so she could hear his messages. In other words, elders are interesting and should be revered, not ignored. After all, they aren't so different than the rest of us, even if they appear different on the outside.
Also of interest was the idea that the old can still learn from the young. As Ellie becomes more interested in science and starts reading about famous scientists and their inventions on her own, she develops some critical thinking skills and starts to contemplate the wisdom of some scientific advancements. That is, just because we can do something, does that mean we should?
The story also had some themes involving change - the change from elementary school, where you know everyone, to middle school, where you are introduced to loads of new students you've never met; and the ways in which lifelong friendships change as the young discover new interests and grow apart.
The quote above, that endings are sad, but beginnings are exciting, encapsulates the main theme within the book. For a middle school aged child, this is a very important lesson to learn because that age is so full of endings and beginnings.
Lovely book, with cute characters and great, positive themes. It was a very quick read and is probably best suited for grade school and middle school readers. Probably a little too sweet and young for high school aged kids.