Booktalk for THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE by Kathryn Erskine

Absolute-Value-of-Mike-129x195Mike’s dad is a genius when it comes to math and physics, but he’s pretty clueless about everything else. His colleagues have to inform him that it wouldn’t be appropriate to leave his 14-year-old son home alone for six weeks while he goes to teach in Romania.

So Mike gets shipped off for the summer to a small town in Pennsylvania to stay with Moo and Poppy, elderly relatives he’s never met.

Moo is in her eighties and nearly blind. She really shouldn’t be driving, but she picks Mike up at the airport in her car named it Tyrone. When she runs out of gas, she siphons some from another person’s vehicle.

Poppy is Mike’s dad’s uncle. Mike is supposed to help him with a project over the summer, but Poppy has hardly left his armchair since his son died four months ago. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t even brush away the flies that land on him.

Mike meets other characters in town:

Past—it’s a nickname—a homeless guy who sets up office on a park bench, refuses to let Mike eat a Twinkie, and has a poster of a Romanian child on his cart.

Gladys—a gorgeous punk rocker with stage fright and a no-good boyfriend.

And Karen, who is trying to adopt a Romanian boy—the one whose picture is on Past’s shopping cart. The adoption laws in Romania are changing and she has three weeks and two days to raise $40,000. The whole town is pitching in to help, but at the rate things are going, there’s no way they’ll make it in time.

This is where Mike comes in to help.


Genre: contemporary fiction

Grades 6-9.