Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. (Grades 5-8.)
Life changes for Jeremy Fink when, a month before his thirteenth birthday, he receives a wooden box from his father. Jeremy's father died when he was eight and the box has words carved into the top: "THE MEANING OF LIFE. FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY."
The problem? The box requires four special keys to open it. And the keys have been lost. Can Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy find the keys before his birthday?
Their quest for the keys will lead them all over New York City. They'll talk to people they never thought they would meet. And they just might find out the meaning of life.
What I love about this book is something that I've loved about the other Wendy Mass books I've read. I feel like I learned so much by reading it. And not in that didactic this-is-an-educational-novel type of way. It was so organic that I didn't even realize it at first, but then I kept having to put the book down to take a deep breath because she was blowing my mind.
In Every Soul a Star, I learned about astronomy. In A Mango-Shaped Space, I learned about synesthesia. In Jeremy Fink, the reader gets a dose of philosophy. And a taste of evolutionary theory. As Jeremy and Lizzy try to find out what their purpose is, they take the reader along with them.
Add to this a host of varied and well-developed characters and a really interesting plot and you've got yourself a great novel here. It's not perfect - the new neighbors and the seance scene don't fit with the story and the book would have been stronger without them - but it's a book I'll happily recommend to boys and girls alike.
This book's been reviewed all over the kidlitosphere. You can find a sampling of them at A Fuse #8 Production, Jen Robinson's Book Page, Big A little a, and bookshelves of doom. Check out Wendy Mass's website and read a great interview with Wendy Mass at HipWriterMama.