STARRED REVIEW
March 13, 2018

Finding solace in the scientific method

By Tae Keller

On the first day of seventh-grade science class, Natalie Napoli, the narrator of Tae Keller’s debut novel, learns that the scientific method begins with observation. And while Mr. Neely is a new teacher, and therefore “all optimistic and stuff,” Natalie finds herself drawn to his lesson on the scientific method. After all, she’s the daughter of a botanist who even wrote a book about miracle plants.

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On the first day of seventh-grade science class, Natalie Napoli, the narrator of Tae Keller’s debut novel, learns that the scientific method begins with observation. And while Mr. Neely is a new teacher, and therefore “all optimistic and stuff,” Natalie finds herself drawn to his lesson on the scientific method. After all, she’s the daughter of a botanist who even wrote a book about miracle plants.

When Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to enter a city-wide egg drop contest, it makes her realize how much has changed since her botanist mother became depressed. “The old Mom would have loved this project. She would have sat with me for days, brainstorming different questions and experiments,” Natalie says. These days Natalie’s mother has all but disappeared into her room.

In attempting to apply the scientific method to her family’s situation, Natalie decides on a hypothesis and action plan. If her mom can once again connect with the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchid she once studied, maybe she would be “excited by science and life and questions” once again. Natalie’s experiments lead to a daring break-in at a botany lab, and, in the end, the hope of an emotional breakthrough of another sort.

Natalie is an engaging narrator whose struggles at home and with her peers ring true. Educators will be especially pleased by the STEM connections in The Science of Breakable Things, as well as illustrations of experiments related to the egg drop contest. And as for a conclusion, it’s irrefutable: Readers will be eager to see what Natalie chooses to investigate next.

 

Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen.

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