Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Absolute Value of Mike

Erskine, Kathryn. The Absolute Value of Mike.
Poor Mike. He's got a math disability, but his autism spectrum professor father (never said, but one suspects) thinks he should be an engineer. Not only that, but since the death of Mike's mother, his father has taken little care of Mike, expecting Mike to take care of both of them. When the father is called away to teach for the summer in Romania, he sends Mike to stay with his great aunt and uncle, Boo and Poppy. Things get worse there, because Poppy is completely uncommunicative after the death of his son, and Poppy doesn't have enough money to keep the utilities on all the time. Never fear, though, because Mike is used to holding everything together. He also gets drawn into the town's quest to help Karen, a local minister who has suffered many losses, adopt a Romanian orphan before the country closes foreign adoptions. In doing so, he meets a huge variety of increasingly quirky characters. Can he snap Poppy out of his funk? Will the town raise enough money for Karen to adopt the orphan?
Strengths: This was fairly readable, and this type of cover (think Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, My Life as a Book) has been popular with boys who like humor. Fast-paced story, funny moments.
Weaknesses: The Quirky Quotient on this one is off the charts. I started to wonder what was in the water in Poppy and Moo's town. This, combined with Mike's disability, puts it on track for a Newbery. It would be better than having another history book win, but I didn't love it as much as the following people:

Lynch, Chris. Angry Young Man.
Robert is trying to make a go at it. He works at a garage, goes to college part time, and is doing some work in schools toward his goals. His brother, Xan, however, doesn't do anything to help out their financially struggling mother. He is antisocial and possibly has some undiagnosed mental illness, especially when he starts obsessing about animals in a local shelter. When he gets involved with a group of radical activists, Robert has to figure out how to get his brother on the right path (and save his mother from loan sharks) before things get really bad.
Strengths: This is listed as grades 9-12, but I can't remember excessive swearing or sex. It is definitely more for 8th graders who want problem novels.
Weaknesses: Those who know Lynch from Slot Machine or Cyberia will not be as happy with this one. Lynch definitely has a dichotomy in his writing.


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