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)
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
Noah Galvin’s performance enhances this clever novel in every detail, making even the chapter titles come to life. Each chapter is named for a mathematical concept and highlights Mike’s struggle against the expectation that he excel mathematically, like his brilliant father. He doesn’t. Over a summer Mike discovers his own strengths when everyone he meets seems to be dealing with grief, and none too well. Galvin renders these characters with tender quirkiness, using slight shifts in pitch and speech patterns. Mike’s angst and the ramblings of eccentric Great-Aunt Moe are balanced with subtle silences. Galvin’s lively use of inflection imbues the dialogue with a sense of candid immediacy, making the listener feel right there with Mike and the crazy residents of “Do-Over,” Pennsylvania. A.M.P. © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
NOVEMBER 2011 - AudioFile
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.