When Life Gives You O.J.

When Life Gives You O.J.

3.7 10
by Erica S. Perl

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For years, 10-year-old Zelly Fried has tried to convince her parents to let her have a dog. After all, practically everyone in Vermont owns a dog, and it sure could go a long way helping Zelly fit in since moving there from Brooklyn. But when her eccentric grandfather Ace hatches a ridiculous plan involving a "practice dog" named OJ, Zelly's not so sure how far she's


For years, 10-year-old Zelly Fried has tried to convince her parents to let her have a dog. After all, practically everyone in Vermont owns a dog, and it sure could go a long way helping Zelly fit in since moving there from Brooklyn. But when her eccentric grandfather Ace hatches a ridiculous plan involving a "practice dog" named OJ, Zelly's not so sure how far she's willing to go to win a dog of her own. Is Ace's plan so crazy it just might work . . . or is it just plain crazy?

Erica S. Perl weaves an affectionate and hilarious tale that captures the enduring bond between grandparents and grandchildren.  Even when they're driving each other nuts.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Zelda Fried's grandfather, Ace, comes up with the perfect plan to help convince her parents to get her the dog she so desperately wants: the 10-year-old will take care of a "practice dog" (actually an old orange juice jug), including feeding, walking, and cleaning up after it, until they give in. This is totally embarrassing, and to make matters worse, although Zelly moved from Brooklyn, NY, to Vermont a while ago, she still feels like the new kid in town. Her only friend will be spending the summer at camp, leaving her all alone to deal with her annoying little brother and the neighborhood bullies (who no doubt will have a lot to say about her plastic companion). By the end of the summer, she has made another friend, learned to stand up for herself, and begun to appreciate her "pet." Despite the novel's forced secondary story line about Zelly's Jewish family fitting in with the new neighborhood and Ace's unfortunate trip to the hospital near the end of the book, readers will enjoy the main character's liveliness and resilience.—Amanda Moss Struckmeyer, Middleton Public Library, WI
Publishers Weekly
In this warm novel about family, friendship, and fitting in, 10-year-old Zelly and her family move from Brooklyn to Vermont to live with her recently widowed grandfather, Ace. An eccentric and vociferous retired judge who spouts Yiddish sayings and outlandish fish tales, Ace devises a plan for Zelly to prove to her parents that she's responsible enough to get a dog. He gives her a "practice dog"—an orange juice jug "named" O.J.—that she must care for as she would a real dog. After Zelly's insightful new friend Jeremy (the only other Jewish peer she's met) advises her to start a dog-walking business, she drags her ersatz pet along. Perl (Vintage Veronica) offers a refreshing take on the grandparent-grandchild rapport. Ace's bossiness and brashness irk Zelly (he may have this effect on readers, too, as his speech is unfortunately rendered in all caps for most of the novel), yet there is a poignant undercurrent of love between them, as well as shared grieving for Zelly's grandmother. The novel strikes an admirable balance of humor and pathos—at times in the same scene. Ages 8–12. (June)
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
All Zelly (aka Zelda) Fried has ever wanted is a dog, but her parents stubbornly refuse to even consider the possibility. Now, nearly 11-years-old, she and her 6-year-old brother Sam have moved with their parents from Brooklyn to Burlington, Vermont—a culture shock to be sure. Zelly used to be surrounded by people with different skin colors and hair colors, many like her, but now all the kids seem to have straight blond hair and blue eyes. She does have a new best friend, Allie, but she is gone to summer camp and Zelly is feeling pretty lonely. One morning she wakes to find an empty plastic orange juice jug with a note from her grandpa, "Ace." He thinks she should demonstrate her ability to be responsible for a dog by using the jug as a "practice dog" that she can feed, walk and clean up after. Zelly will try anything, but she is sorely tested by everyone making fun of the practice dog, which she names O.J. She meets a new boy in the neighborhood, Jeremy, who is also Jewish, and he helps her come up with other plans that might be more convincing, like starting a dog-walking service or volunteering at the animal shelter. He also pushes Zelly to stand up for herself when faced by bullies, and to follow through on promises. Filled with Yiddish expressions, supported by Zelly's Yiddish glossary at the end, this tale reminds us to appreciate what we have, especially the ones we love. This is an easy read with a happy ending that can support discussions about bullying, friendship, responsibility, and accepting differences. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
Kirkus Reviews

Be careful what you wish for is the premise of this mildly amusing novel about a girl who aches for a dog.

Zelly Fried, Jewish and entering sixth grade, lives in Vermont, where she doesn't feel she fits in. Understanding her yearnings, Grandpa (a.k.a. "Ace") ropes Zelly into using an orange-juice jug as a "practice dog" to convince her parents she's capable of caring for a real one. Because she loves Ace—and because he's an unstoppable force of nature (whose booming voice is rendered in large uppercase letters)—Zelly gives in. Taking care of "O.J." isn't easy, particularly cleaning up "fake poop." Schlepping a jug on a leash and including it in various activities is especially humiliating. Why Zelly embarks on this scheme, let alone keeps on, will strain readers' credulity, as will the delayed entry into the novel of sensible ideas, courtesy of a new friend, for showing that Zelly's ready for dog ownership. Zelly does rebel at one point but then returns to "O.J." in a predictable, maudlin plot twist. Characterizations are superficial, though Zelly is likable, and kids will relate to her predicament. Too many subplots also make for uneven storytelling.

Yiddish words and phrases and various Jewish customs are sprinkled liberally throughout and defined in a glossary, which might help the novel reach more than a niche audience. (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
710L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


The whole mess started with a note:





I found the note on my nightstand, attached to a jug that definitely hadn’t been there the night before. I had to put on my glasses to read it. On closer inspection, I could see that the jug was a plastic one, like the kind that milk comes in. The note was attached to the neck of the jug with a green rubber band.

Even without his name on it, I would’ve known this was Ace’s work. The rubber band was a dead giveaway. Ace is the proud owner of the world’s largest rubber band collection. He doesn’t trust Scotch tape.

Ready for what? I thought. I sat up in bed, staring at the jug. If Ace was behind this, I was definitely not ready for it.

Ace is my grandpa. His real name is Abraham Diamond, but he likes everyone to call him Ace. My name is Zelda Fried, but I like everyone to call me Zelly. Ace doesn’t call me Zelly, or even Zelda. He calls me “kid,” so I call him Grandpa to get him back.

I studied the note, then turned my attention to the jug. It was a big white plastic orange juice jug. Before Ace moved in with us, my mom always made pitchers of orange juice from small cans of frozen concentrate. Now she buys it premade in plastic jugs like this one because Ace drinks a lot of orange juice. He mixes scoops of powder into it, which he says keeps him “regular,” whatever that means. Ace is about as far from a regular person as anyone could possibly be, and I can’t imagine how any powder is going to change that.

I read the note again. I HOPE YOU ARE READY FOR THIS. I picked up the jug, which turned out to be empty, and unscrewed the bright orange cap. The faint scent of oranges wafted out.

Okay, fine, I thought, getting out of bed. Let’s go find out what this is all about.

I left the jug where it was and went to the bathroom. The same owl eyes and freckle-strewn nose, framed by an especially frizzy halo of morning hair, stared back at me. I showed my teeth to make sure they were still, thankfully, pretty straight. When you already have crazy hair and glasses, the last thing you need is braces.

It seemed like everyone in the house was still asleep. Except maybe my little brother, Sam, who sometimes gets up super-early to build things in his room with his LEGOs or his blocks. He always forgets that when you wake up, you need to go pee, so after he’s been building for about thirty minutes, he’ll shoot down the hall to the bathroom.

I went back to my room and got the jug and the note. I carried them downstairs to Ace’s room, which is also our TV room. Having the TV there makes my mom super-happy because Sam and I watch a lot less TV than we did a few months ago, when we lived in Brooklyn and the TV was in our living room. We practically never want to watch TV bad enough to hang out in Ace’s room. True, Ace likes some of the same shows we do. For example, old Star Trek reruns. But he always ends up yelling at the TV so much that it isn’t worth it.

I knocked quietly on Ace’s door. No reply. The sign hanging on his door says Gone Fishing, but it’s just for decoration. I don’t think Ace has gone fishing once since we moved to Vermont and Ace moved in with us. Gone to Henry’s Diner or Gone to Ben & Jerry’s or Gone to Battery Park to a band-shell concert wearing my lucky fishing hat? Yes, yes, and yes. But Gone Fishing, not so much.

I looked at the jug. It didn’t make any sense. Maybe Ace had finally completely flipped out. It seemed pretty likely. It occurred to me that maybe I should go upstairs and tell my parents. That thought made me feel all worried and nervous, though. What if Ace had gone crazy, and he got really mad at me for getting him in trouble? What if they dragged him off to the loony bin and he started yelling, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, KID!

Which it kind of would be.

I took a deep breath and knocked again, harder this time. “Grandpa?” I called in a loudish whisper.

“WHA?” boomed Ace through the door.

“Grandpa,” I whispered again. “It’s me, Zelly.”


I entered the room and immediately tripped on something and fell flat on my face. I had a feeling it had been one of Ace’s many pairs of golf shoes. That’s another thing about Ace. He stopped playing golf years ago, but he loved the shoes so much that he started wearing them all the time. He probably has about twenty pairs. If anyone asks about his shoes, he launches into this lecture about how they “give excellent arch support.”

“WHO’S THERE?” yelled Ace. I was on all fours, feeling my way over to the wall, where I knew there was a light switch. I had dropped the jug when I fell. Before I could make it very far, Ace switched his bedside lamp on.

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF--?” said Ace.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just tripped, and, I mean, I got your note.”


Okay, he’s definitely gone crazy, I thought to myself. Just back up and out and go see Mom and Dad. But there’s something about the way Ace talks. His voice practically requires an answer.

“The note you, uh, put on the orange juice jug?” I spotted the jug lying on its side on the floor, but I left it where it was. Instead, I walked over to Ace and handed him the note.

“OH,” said Ace, putting on his glasses and swinging his legs out of bed. He looked it over carefully, as if seeing it for the first time. “THAT NOTE.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, getting ready to make my exit.




“Am I what?”


“Ready for what?”


Meet the Author

ERICA S. PERL is the author several picture books and the young adult novel Vintage Veronica, which Publishers Weekly called "wonderfully fun!" In addition to writing books, Erica works at First Book, the groundbreaking non-profit organization that has provided over 70 million brand new books to children in need. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.

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When Life Gives You OJ 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a funny book. You could really relate to the all of the characters. You can really understand the book. :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im ten and this book was awesome
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dude this book looks adorible!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fun book readed it lots of times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dog poop way too classic boring dont read this dog stuff
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This books is poopy