(D) Ages 10-12, Book Reviews, Discussion Starters, Middle Grades, Realistic Fiction
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The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

Natalie is desperate to win an egg drop contest so she can use the prize money to help cure her mom’s depression in this sweet middle grades novel.

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller. Random House, 2018. 304 pages.

  • Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
  • Recommended For: Middle grades, ages 10-12

Step 1: Observe

This is the first step in the scientific process! Sharpen and hone your observational skillz! What is going on in the world around you? Note everything you see and experience!

#MrNeelysScientificAdventure

The #seventhgradesleuths are all set for their grand year in Mr. Neely’s Science Class: a year of dragging around a “dorky” composition book in which they record all their observations about their Big Question. It will be the scientific method in action! So much learning! Natalie and her best friend, Twig, are in this excitement together, but Natalie’s big question is a personal one: what is wrong with her mom? Why does her mom stay in her bed all day now? Why does her mom not talk to Natalie anymore? Her dad is a counselor, but even he seems at a loss. When Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to enter an egg drop contest that involves prize money, Natalie has an answer to her question: win the contest and use the money to help her mom. Meanwhile, she has another big question: what has happened to her best friend Twig and does she have a crush on Dari?

Twig and their new friend Dari (a boy from India) fiercely help Natalie pursue championship in the egg drop contest, and they are in full support of donating all the prize money to fix Natalie’s mom. Do they win the egg drop contest? I won’t spoil it for you, but the metaphor of the fragility of an egg is an apt one for people’s psyches and families and friendships. Keller stops short of overdoing her metaphor, and Natalie realizes science isn’t always the answer. In this alternately funny and sad story, science is called upon to save lives… but it can’t. Only people can help people, even though science can sometimes be a helpful tool. And it’s only when Natalie opens up to her family after a desperate break-in to her mother’s former workplace that her family starts to “hatch” a new life together.

I cracked open and cried like I would never stop crying, like I would cry until all of me was gone. I was too afraid to look up from my curled-up cocoon and see my parents, because they weren’t the Mom and Dad I used to know. They were so much more now. Not perfect, not magic–but real.

Distinctive characters, a clever science class framing, and a hopeful, family-centric ending come together in this rewarding and uplifting novel. Depression can be a very serious condition, and Keller does a helpful job of drawing that out while remaining hopeful that change and healing can happen. People, of course, can’t ultimately save people, but it’s helpful when a novel recognizes that science can’t ultimately save people either. Point your young readers to the One who ultimately saves, who created each of us with our strengths and weaknesses, and who knows our frames because he made us in the first place!

Cautions: none

Overall Rating: 4.25

  • Artistic Rating: 4.25
  • Worldview Rating: 4.25

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