cover image The Absolute Value of Mike

The Absolute Value of Mike

Kathryn Erskine. Philomel, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-399-25505-2

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%E2%80%94the "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%E2%80%93up. (June)