Top positive review
A fun and thoughtful examination on the consequences of scientific discovery
Reviewed in the United States on August 4, 2018
I've been gradually making my way through an extended list of books recommended to me by a librarian friend of mine. Next on the list was this quirky-sounding tale that, at first glance, sounded like your standard pre-teen light fantasy. But upon finishing it, one will quickly see that the story actually has more than a few profound things to teach its audience, while making its messages easily understandable for younger readers.
Ellie is your average 12 year old trying to survive middle school. Her single mom is dating again, her friends are drifting apart, and she's not sure what she's good at or what she wants to do in her life (since her parents' theater careers don't interest her). But one day, her life is turned even further upside down when her mom comes home with a teenage boy in tow....and said teenager is actually her grandfather. Thanks to one of his latest experiments, Ellie's Grandpa Melvin has discovered a "fountain of youth" formula to turn the elderly young again. Pretty soon, the two find themselves bonding with and understanding each other in ways they couldn't before. But the more Ellie takes an interest in science, the more she begins to learn that all experiments have consequences, both good and bad...and that maybe turning everyone young forever ISN'T such a good idea after all.
The story starts off a bit more juvenile; treating the situation more like a wacky, fun comedy, with Grandpa Melvin still acting like an old man in a teenager's body. Even weirder, the rest of his family don't act nearly as shocked as one would expect--as if taking care of their de-aged grandpa is just an annoying inconvenience than anything earth-shattering. This attitude nearly made me dismiss the book as just a funny idea for young kids. But thankfully, I kept with it, and as time went on, the plot slowly started to turn more serious as the full implications of what Melvin's done comes to light. Is regaining one's youth really worth it if it means upsetting the cycle of life itself? And are there certain things that only an older person can understand and enjoy more than the younger generation can?
It's our two main characters who, through their discoveries and experiments, drive the point home. Melvin starts off as a bit of an unlikeable, stubborn grouch, but very slowly changes as he gets to know his granddaughter. We get tiny peeks into his home life, and one can quickly figure out that he's far more lonely than he lets on--desperately missing his deceased wife and willing to do anything to be recognized. And by him trying to integrate himself into his granddaughter's school, the obvious generation gap is explored. At first, it's funny, but then turns more thoughtful as it becomes clear that some people never change, and refusing to move forward in life will only hurt yourself and others. This is made all the more clear when we watch Ellie discover the parallels between art and science, and how it can be wonderful or terrifying in the right or wrong hands. As she goes on a personal journey of self discovery, she'll realize how much possibility life has to offer, and that growing older isn't such a horrible thing if you carry the right attitude. And by the end, she, Melvin, and the audience are faced with a question---is the world really ready for a fountain of youth? Or will keeping everyone young actually hold the world back? How can you make room for the new if the old doesn't die or fade away? Or as Ellie puts it, "If everyone's young, who's going to be the grown up?"
I'd rate this at a three and half stars, but since Amazon can't do half stars, I've rounded it to four, as it gains points for turning insightful towards the latter half of the book. Though it starts off silly, if one is patient and sticks with it, the reader will be rewarded with a profound lesson straight out of one of the best episodes of the Twilight Zone. This is a great book to introduce kids to all sorts of famous scientists, and explore themes of being responsible and considering the consequences of one's discoveries.