Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Summary: In one month Jeremy Fink will turn thirteen. But does he have what it takes to be a teenager? He collects mutant candy, he won't venture more than four blocks from his apartment if he can help it, and he definitely doesn't like surprises. On the other hand, his best friend, Lizzy, isn't afraid of anything, even if that might get her into trouble now and then.

Jeremy's summer takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious wooden box arrives in the mail. According to the writing on the box, it holds the meaning of life! Jeremy is supposed to open it on his thirteenth birthday. The problem is, the keys are missing, and the box is made so that only the keys will open it without destroying what's inside. Jeremy and Lizzy set off to find the keys, but when one of their efforts goes very wrong, Jeremy starts to lose hope that he'll ever be able to open the box. But he soon discovers that when you're meeting people named Oswald Oswald and using a private limo to deliver unusual objects to strangers all over the city, there might be other ways of finding out the meaning of life.

Lively characters, surprising twists, and thought-provoking ideas make Wendy Mass's latest novel an unforgettable read. -- Little Brown Kids

I know I usually post my reviews for children's books on Saturdays as part of my Kid Konnection posts; however, I had to make an exception for JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE by Wendy Mass. I absolutely loved this book and couldn't wait to share it with all of you. It truly encompasses everything I love about middle grade fiction, and it is just a wonderful book for children and adults alike!

JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE tells the story of a best friends Jeremy and his friend Lizzy. When Jeremy discovers a locked box that holds the meaning of life, both kids set out to find the keys which will open the box. Along the way, the meet lots of interesting people and experience some very life-altering events. JEREMY FINK is filled with wonderful themes about friendship and the different ways we cope with loss that appealed to me; however, there are also elements of mystery and lots of twists and turns which will appeal to all sorts of middle-graders.

There are so many wonderful things about this story, but I think I'll focus on the characters, and especially Jeremy. I just loved Jeremy although my heart most definitely went out to him. Jeremy's father died when he was pretty young; and as a result, Jeremy suffered from some anxiety issues. He didn't like change, was afraid to try new things, and he wasn't entirely comfortable venturing out on his own to unfamiliar places. Thank goodness he had such a wonderful friend in Lizzie who accepted him -- quirks and all. Throughout the course of this story, Jeremy embarks on a quest to find the keys which will open the box and he is often times forced out of his comfort zone. In many ways, JEREMY FINK was a coming-of-age story for Jeremy. By the end of the story, Jeremy had matured so much and learned some important things about his father and the meaning of life.

There were some other very interesting characters in this story besides Jeremy. I also loved Lizzie and found her friendship with Jeremy to be extremely interesting. In addition, I thought Mr. Oswald was a fantastic character as were the people he "introduced" to Jeremy and Lizzie. And what can I say about Jeremy's father? There is no doubt that he was a very special parent who loved his child deeply and wanted to leave him with some valuable messages about life.

What I most definitely appreciated about this novel is that each reader will take something different away from the story. As an adult (and a mom), I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book made me think. I felt as if the book took me on an emotional roller coaster at times, and I loved remembering all of the feelings I experienced as a tween. However, I also enjoyed that I began thinking about "my meaning of life." In addition, I began asking myself about what valuable messages/ lessons I would want to leave for my children. I guess what I'm trying to say is that reading JEREMY FINK kind of put life in perspective for me (or at least caused me to start thinking about my life!) And I'm pretty sure that readers of all ages will have a similar response.

Booking Daughter has always held a special place in her heart for Wendy Mass. She has read quite a few of her books and counts her as one of her all-time favorite writers. In fact, 11 BIRTHDAYS is one of her favorite books -- I think she's read it like five times or something! After reading JEREMY FINK, I can now totally understand Booking Daughter's feelings. I love Wendy Mass too. She has a wonderful knack for writing stories that appeal to tweens (and adults) while at the same time giving them lots to think about. I will most definitely be reading all of her books!

After the holidays, I will be running an after-school book club with fourth and fifth graders, and I honestly can't think of a more perfect book for the kids to discuss. I am pretty sure that they will all be drawn to the storyline and the characters, but I am also relatively certain that they will want to discuss Jeremy and Lizzy's actions as well as "the meaning of life." I was actually blown away by how much there is to talk about in this novel, and I was thrilled to find that there were discussion questions in the back of my book. Some of the topics for discussion include friendship, puberty, anxiety, loss, grief, insecurities, parent/child relationships, fate, luck, and of course, the meaning of life.

I also found that Wendy Mass has a link to some resources for JEREMY FINK on her website. In fact, she has educator's guides for quite a few of her novels. Not only does she have some discussion questions for JEREMY FINK (which are different from the ones in the back of the book), but she also lists some activities related to the story. I would love to see this novel covered in the classroom because it appeals to both boys and girls, and I can't give Ms. Mass enough credit for providing so much useful information for teachers.

Needless to say, I absolutely loved JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE as did Booking Daughter. She has been recommending this book to all of her friends, and she even did a "book report" project on it for her Reading Class. (She wrote a fictional letter to Ms. Mass which I thought was outstanding.) I could go on and on about the merits of this book, but I'll stop and just say, "READ IT!"

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I'm a fan of Wendy Mass too! This book sounds wonderful and I think the cover is fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Both my kids are out of the Middle School years so I haven't read much of the genre lately. This does sound interesting.

Beth F said...

Taking notes for when the next batch of family kids reaches the right age.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like one my daughter and I would enjoy reading together.

Alyce said...

This is not one I would normally pick up, so I'm glad I saw your review.

Beth S. said...

Loved this book! It's one of my favorites.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This book is actually required summer reading for our students going into 6th grade. My daughter really enjoyed it, as well as anything Wendy Mass, but I didn't read it. Guess I need to fix that!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This sounds fantastic -- oh, the list of books I'm building for me, I mean my niece and nephew...! :)