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
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 fromwhere elseRomania, 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
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)