For What It's Worth

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman

The Reinvention of Edison ThomasFrom the book... “Maybe his invention would even make him popular, like Mitch. Eddy hoped not, because he wouldn’t like to have so many people around him all the time. He preferred to be by himself, or maybe with one or two other people, like Justin and Kip, or Terry. Otherwise, with too many people talking, Eddy had too many of those stupid, unwritten social rules to decipher at the same time.”
Meet Eddy
Eddy Thomas copes with the noise and crowds of Drayton Middle School by reciting the periodic table of elements, memorizing Morse code, and jumping on the trampoline in the gym teacher’s office. His mind stores thousands of facts and the scientific names of animals and plants, but cannot decode the meaning of the expressions on faces or the definition of a friend. When the local school crossing guard is laid off, Eddy can’t stop thinking about the dangerous intersection and the possibility that someone could get hurt there. Marshalling his talents as a scientist and inventor, he builds a traffic – calming device out of his collection of old machines. Could Eddy’s invention help with more than just the safety situation?
Meet Eddy’s friends
Eddy has known Mitch since preschool and Mitch talks to Eddy more than anyone else at school. That makes them friends, doesn’t it? Then a new kid invites Eddy to sit with him at lunch, and Eddy begins to take a closer look at how friendship really works. Eddy discovers that even the mechanics of friendship — trust, humor, and a willingness to help — can be learned. Mid-grade ages 9-12
(description copied from Jacqueline Houtman's website)

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas is an original, and intelligent story that could be applied to any number of situations in a child's life. Edison (Eddy) is living with a condition similar to autism spectrum disorder (his condition is never given a specific name in the book) and he has problems interacting with other people.  Eddy sees things in black and white so he has problems reading into the subtleties of conversation that we all take for granted and often misinterprets peoples meanings. He gets overwhelmed by loud noises and crowds and finds solace in his basement working on his inventions.
Eddy believes that his only friend is Mitch, a boy he has known forever, but when bad things start happening to Eddy and he starts getting in trouble in school, he has to consider that Mitch may be the one behind it. As he tries to come to terms with finding out Mitch is not only not his friend but a bully, he also has to learn to make and trust new friends.
I loved how Houtman wrote Eddy. He could have come off as aloof or like an after school special where you feel pity for him, but you don't. He's just a boy going through the things that most of us do in middle school, albeit from a very different perspective.
Eddy thinks in RAM - random access memory. His brain is filled with random scientific facts that help him process the world around him. For example after a a drop of rain lands on his watch he thinks: "Fact number 212 from the Random Access Memory of Edison Thomas: Petricho, the distinctive smell of rain on dry ground, is caused by plant oils release into the air from clay-based rocks and soil. Conducting his experiments and making his inventions help to calm him and are much simpler than interacting with people.
These random thoughts are throughout the book and this is where book's strength lies - it doesn't talk down to its audience. It assumes that kids are curious and receptive to new information. I'm not the target audience for this book and I don't have children, but I would think this would be a great book to read with a child and have a set of encyclopedias nearby to further investigate all the things that are sure to peak their curiosity.
Reading The Reinvention of Edison Thomas with a child would also be a good way to bring up bullying and how to treat people who may act or look different than ourselves. There are some very positive messages in this book as Eddy learns to trust the right people and work with others towards a common goal.
I was never a strong science student either but this book introduces science in a fun way. The appendix is filled with "not so random numbers" 1.7kg = average weight of an adult male duck-billed platypus, 44 pounds = weight of the largest lobster on record, 73atm = minimum supercritical pressure of carbon dioxide (above 31.1C)
Loved: Very original story that was straight forward and not overly sentimental, also enjoyed his friends Justin, Terry and Kip
Nitpick: I felt it ended rather abrubptly. The story has a satisfying ending but I guess I wanted more detail. Maybe there will be more adventures for Eddy and friends?

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Probably better for younger audiences (it is recomended for ages 9-12) Smart and filled with lessons kids won't even know their learning!

On a side note, I want to mention that this book is another from the Class of 2k10 (a group of mid-grade and YA debut authors - I know you've heard this many times already from me!)It's my goal to read and review all of the books on their list and I am pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of these stories. Island Sting by Bonnie Doerr and The Reinvention of Edison Thomas are particularly good for younger children. Both are smart and well written and make great starting points for discussions about science, the environment and navigating relationships. Consider getting them for a child in your life or like I am doing - donating my copies to the local library.

Author's website:
Buy the book! The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
Jacqueline is a member of the Class of 2k10 - a group of mid grade and YA debut authors. Check out their website and trailer HERE

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, dear! I'm always looking for a heads-up on good Mid-Grade, since I'm now re-interested in the genre, thanks to Percy Jackson.