The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine

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.

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