Author: Kathryn Erskine
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Family, Friendship, Identity
Age Level: Grades 5 and Up
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Review: In my last review, I was fairly critical of Close to Famous for being riddled with cliched characters. The Absolute Value of Mike is similar to that novel in the sense that Mike, like Foster McFee, lives in a town of misfits, many of whom are all too familiar. However, the characters in The Absolute Value of Mike were drawn with a depth that made me care deeply for them, even if their stories weren't entirely brand new. There's Poppy, paralyzed with grief over losing his adult son; Moo, Poppy's absentminded wife who fancies herself a collector of lost souls; a punk rock girl looking for a normal family, and a homeless gentleman who is not at all what he seems. Of course there's also Mike, a boy struggling to accept the fact that he is not the boy his father wants him to be. Mike's journey to discover his "absolute value" is a touching one, and the relationship that develops between Mike and his father feels genuine. The book has many possible points of discussion, one of which being that each chapter is titled with a mathematical term and definition that is somehow connected to the plot. I think that this novel could provide interesting discussion in a guided reading group or literature circle.