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The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike

4.2 9
by Kathryn Erskine

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Mike tries so hard to please his father, but the only language his dad seems to speak is calculus. And for a boy with a math learning disability, nothing could be more difficult. When his dad sends him to live with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania for the summer to work on an engineering project, Mike figures this is his big chance to buckle down and prove


Mike tries so hard to please his father, but the only language his dad seems to speak is calculus. And for a boy with a math learning disability, nothing could be more difficult. When his dad sends him to live with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania for the summer to work on an engineering project, Mike figures this is his big chance to buckle down and prove himself. But when he gets there, nothing is what he thought it would be. The project has nothing at all to do with engineering, and he finds himself working alongside his wacky eighty-something- year-old aunt, a homeless man, and a punk rock girl as part of a town-wide project to adopt a boy from Romania. Mike may not learn anything about engineering, but what he does learn is far more valuable.

Editorial Reviews

Gary D. Schmidt
The Absolute Value of Mike is a comedy about deadly serious things. It is also decidedly more comic than either of Kathryn Erskine's two earlier books, mostly because of its quirky cast and authentic 14-year-old voice…
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Following her National Book Award win for Mockingbird, Erskine tries her hand at comedy with this story of an undervalued boy learning his considerable worth. Mike's father, a math professor, must teach in Romania for six weeks, so he ships his motherless 14-year-old to live with distant relatives and work on an engineering project to improve Mike's chances of getting into a math magnet school. Mike's dyscalculia, a math disability, telegraphs immediately that this plan won't succeed, but things go wrong in surprising ways. The relatives, Moo and Poppy, are octogenarians grieving the death of their adult son. Moo, a comical but endearing figure, frequently confuses words—the "artesian screw" Mike was supposed to work on is really an "artisan's crew" of woodworkers, building boxes to raise funds to bring a Romanian orphan to live with a widowed minister in town. There are many contrivances: nearly every important character is grieving someone, and Misha, the prospective adoptee, looks exactly like Mike and is wearing a shirt Mike donated to charity. Still, the wacky cast, rewarding character growth, and ample humor make this an effortless read. Ages 10–up. (June)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Mike's father, a brilliant engineering professor, is disappointed that he does not have a brilliant, mathematically inclined son and is forcing him to spend the summer working on remedial math and engineering projects to get him ready for high school. When he is offered a university teaching job in Romania, Mike ends up staying with his great-aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania. Moo can barely see, and Poppy is catatonic since the death of their son. Mike becomes involved in a project to help Karen, a local teacher, adopt a child from Romania. However, the country's adoption laws have changed, and now she has just three weeks to scrape together $40,000 for adoption fees, so Mike and the rest of the town work together to help her. Before he realizes it, he is in charge of the whole operation. It's a huge undertaking for a 14-year-old as it involves a web campaign, eBay marketing, and a town festival. Now if only he can get Poppy out of his armchair and working on the artisan boxes he promised to sell before his son's death, they might just make their deadline. The eccentric characters' over-the-top behaviors border on the ridiculous, and kids will be laughing throughout much of the novel. Unfortunately, the story ends before enough money is raised. While parts of the novel are heartwarming, the ending is likely to leave readers frustrated.—Melyssa Kenney, Parkville High School, Baltimore, MD
Children's Literature - Nancy Partridge
Mike is, in his own words, a fourteen-year-old "math moron." Given that his father is a math genius who teaches at the university, this is pretty serious. Mike lives alone with his Dad and takes care of him. The genius can't do things like other fathers: make toast, find his car keys, or pay the bills. Mike does all of these things. Now, his immediate problem is being sent away for six weeks to help his ancient great-aunt and uncle with a science project in rural Pennsylvania while his father teaches a seminar in Romania. Great-aunt Moo meets him at the airport, white hair sticking straight out from her head and wearing yellow duck sneakers, and the summer goes downhill from there. Uncle Poppy, still in shock from the death of their son four months ago, sits glued to the living room chair. The smartest man in town lives on a park bench. This story could be depressing, but Mike's ongoing inner and outer dialog is laugh-out-loud funny, and the darkness recedes. He tells his story with great humor, panache and heart. As Mike gets drawn into the town's scheme to adopt a small boy from—where else—Romania, the various storylines draw closer and closer together, like the strings on Moo's hoodie. National Book Award winner Erskine (Mockingbird) weaves a magic spell in this snugly constructed novel. While the premise of a young teen being sent off to crazy relatives is not exactly original, the quirky characters virtually pop off the page, and the absolute value of the story ends up being much more than the sum of its parts. Reviewer: Nancy Partridge
Kirkus Reviews

Sent to stay with octogenarian relatives for the summer, 14-year-old Mike ends up coordinating a community drive to raise $40,000 for the adoption of a Romanian orphan. He'll never be his dad's kind of engineer, but he learns he's great at human engineering.

Mike's math learning disability is matched by his widower father's lack of social competence; the Giant Genius can't even reliably remember his son's name. Like many of the folks the boy comes to know in Do Over, Penn.—his great-uncle Poppy silent in his chair, the multiply pierced-and-tattooed Gladys from the bank and "a homeless guy" who calls himself Past—Mike feels like a failure. But in spite of his own lack of confidence, he provides the kick start they need to cope with their losses and contribute to the campaign. Using the Internet (especially YouTube), Mike makes use of town talents and his own webpage design skills and entrepreneurial imagination. Math-definition chapter headings (Compatible Numbers, Zero Property, Tessellations) turn out to apply well to human actions in this well-paced, first-person narrative. Erskine described Asperger's syndrome from the inside in Mockingbird (2010). Here, it's a likely cause for the rift between father and son touchingly mended at the novel's cinematic conclusion.

A satisfying story of family, friendship and small-town cooperation in a 21st-century world. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 7.56(h) x 0.70(d)
610L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 Years

Meet the Author

Kathryn Erskine spent many years as a lawyer before realizing that she’d rather write things that people might actually enjoy reading. She grew up mostly overseas and attended eight different schools, her favorite being the Hogwarts-type castle in Scotland. The faculty, of course, did not consist of wizards, although . . . how did the headmistress know that it was “the wee redhead” who led the campaign to free the mice from the biology lab? Erskine draws on her childhood—and her second childhood through her children—for her stories. She still loves to travel but nowadays most trips tend to be local, such as basketball and tennis courts, occasional emergency room visits, and the natural food store for very healthy organic chocolate with “life saving” flavonoids.

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The Absolute Value of Mike 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Ms_Terra More than 1 year ago
I have been anxiously awaiting the next book from Kathryn Erskine since the release of Mockingbird. As a middle school literature teacher, I have found that her books are ideal for addressing tough topics with today's youth in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. The Absolute Value of Mike is the best book I've read all year, and I have already ordered a class set to kick off the next school year. The protagonist, Mike, faces a difficult family dynamic with a mother who has passed away and father who is an academic genius, but who can't connect with people. Mike is pressured to excel in math, the only standard of success his father seems to value. When his father goes overseas for the summer, he leaves Mike with elderly relatives and the expectation that Mike will flourish working on an engineering project. Mike does flourish, but under completely different circumstances. Erskine's characters are brilliantly multi-dimensional, creatively contrived and endearingly flawed. A seemingly homeless man named Past, a disgruntled old man who refuses to move or talk, an eighty-something tiny fireball of a woman named Moo, a beautiful, highly-tattooed bank teller with abandonment issues, an old car decorated with vintage movie posters named Tyrone, and a 15-pound bag named Junior make up a portion of the cast Mike encounters in this coming-of-age saga. While the topics in this book are serious and relevant to today's young adults, they are addressed in a manner that is tasteful and appropriate. Financial difficulties, death, senility, learning disabilities, domestic violence, adoption, and homelessness are some of the conflicts faced by the characters in The Absolute Value of Mike, but Erskine navigates each issue gracefully, with compassion and empathy. I was grateful, as an English teacher, to find that there is no foul language or controversial material in this book. I believe this novel would be a perfect addition to any classroom or home library for adolescents, teachers, and parents. Five stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Does she get adopted??
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was such an amazing book i highly recommend :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
When his father takes a teaching job in Romania for the summer, fourteen-year-old Mike is sent to a town he affectionately calls, "Do Over" so he can stay with his grand-aunt and uncle known only as Moo and Poppy. Moo and Poppy have their own issues. They've recently lost their grown son Doug, and Poppy spends his days sitting in his chair, staring at the TV and eating nothing but Scrapple. Sitting in a chair all day wouldn't be too bad, but there's a project that the entire town is relying on Poppy for, and he's in no shape to complete it. Having no other choice, Mike steps in to save the day. There are some very serious issues contained within its pages, but The Absolute Value of Mike addresses them with humor. The small town feel and the relationship between the town's inhabitants is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but also very sweet. I had just begun to read this when The Boy took it out of my hands. He is not a reader, but after reading the opening paragraph, he declared that he would read it after me. Wha?? The Boy said he wants to read it? Wha?? It took a moment for that to settle in. Isn't that saying something though? This is clean tween reading. No vamps or zombies here. Just Porch Pals, a car named Tyrone and a Romanian orphan looking for a home. Although it's geared towards tweens, I enjoyed it too. Erskine's name might sound familiar to you and that would be because she also wrote Mockingbird, which I liked very much.