Mockingbird and Quaking turned me into a huge Kathryn Erskine fan. The Absolute Value of Mike is a little different. But different isn’t bad. It’s just…different. Mike is the son of a college professor who desperately, or so it seems, wants him to be an engineer. The only problem is that Mike has dyscalculia, a learning disability with numbers and mathematical formulas. Like most other kids, he doesn’t know how to tell his father he doesn’t want to be an engineer. This is a fairly common theme in young adult literature – a child hiding his true desires, whether career-oriented, romantic, or educational from his parents. However, the cast of characters, the way Mike discovers his value, and the subsequent discussion with his father make this a remarkable book.
The story begins with Mike’s father accepting a six-week summer professorship in Romania. Since Mike is not allowed to accompany his father, he is sent off to his great-aunt and uncle’s to work on an “Artesian Screw” project. By working on the project and finding success, Mike’s father believes Mike will have an advantage when he applies to a gifted high school. Mike feels as though he’s being dumped on relatives he’s never met to work on a project in which he has no interest. But it beats the alternative – completing math worksheets his father is sure to send along. So he goes.
However, when he finally reaches his great-aunt and uncle, a change of plans occurs. This is where the fun begins. Erskine has put together a humorous coming-of-age story that will appeal to a broad base of readers. Chapters are short and sentence structures of relatively uncomplicated, so reluctant readers will enjoy the story. More advanced readers will get a kick out of the quirky characters. All readers will enjoy a truly entertaining story.