Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Jennifer L. Holm
For ages 8 to 12
Random House, 2014   ISBN: 978-0375870644

When Ellie was in preschool, her teacher gave all the kids a goldfish to take home. Her hope was that the goldfish would teach the children about “the cycle of life.” After all, goldfish never live that long. Little Ellie took her new pet home and called it Goldie. Goldie has been a part of her life ever since, for seven years. Only now, when Ellie is in Middle School, does Goldie finally go to the “great fishbowl in the sky.” Or at least that is what Ellie thinks. Her mother, Lissa, finally admits that the original Goldie died after two weeks. She has been replacing Goldie for years, and in all there were thirteen of them.

   One day Ellie and her high school babysitter, Nicole, are at home when Lissa comes home late and in a frazzled state. There is a very strange teenage boy with her. He has long hair and is dressed in clothes that are more suited to an old man. He also keeps telling Lissa what to do and criticizing her. Ellie does not know what to think of the new arrival. Something about him is familiar. Then she sees the ring he is wearing and realizes that the boy is her grandpa. No wonder he and Lissa are spatting. They have never got along.

   It turns out that Grandpa, who was a scientist all his life, has discovered a cure for aging. A diver, knowing that Grandpa is studying jellyfish, sent him a species of jellyfish that can actually age backwards. Grandpa was able to create a compound from the jellyfish’s cells. When the compound was injected into adult mice, they “reverted to an adolescent stage.” He then tested the compound on himself and now here he is, a thirteen year old boy instead of an old man in his seventies.

   Grandpa wants to continue his work on the jellyfish but his specimen is in his old lab, and the people at the lab have thrown him out, thinking he is a trespasser. Ellie knows very little about science, so her grandfather starts telling her about Jonas Salk, Robert Oppenheimer and Galileo. She cannot help being interested in what he tells her, and is fascinated by the idea that these people truly changed the world with the things they learned and created. They made the world better. Jonas Salk saved lives with his polio vaccine, Robert Oppenheimer helped bring WWII to a close with his work on atomic bombs, and Galileo helped humans learn more about their solar system.

   Getting Grandpa’s jellyfish out of the lab turns out to be harder than Ellie and Grandpa expected. They end up recruiting Raj, a goth teenager from Ellie’s school, to help them. Without meaning to, Raj starts becoming Ellie’s friend. Raj is nothing like Ellie’s former best friend, but he is fun and together they do their best to help Grandpa.

   In this thought provoking book, award winning author Jennifer Holm explores the way in which science changes the world. She shows us how passionate scientists often are about their work and how strongly they believe in what they are doing. She also helps us to see that sometimes new scientific innovations are not as wonderful as they first seem. Sometimes we are better off if we do not tamper with the order of things.