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Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life: 10/15/16

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Wendy Mass's books always end up deeper than they first seem. Even the most straightforward sounding plots end up having numerous layers. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is no exception. The titular character is on a quest to learn more about his father but he's stuck doing community service at the same time and he can feel the clock ticking down to this birthday — the time he's supposed to learn what advice his father had left for him.

Jeremy is a boy of habits. He likes to collect mutant candy (and I can't help wonder if they're from Logan's factory). It's not that Logan's parents are sloppy with their candy making operation, it's just that oddballs do slip through.

Jeremy also doesn't like to leave his neighborhood. He may live in a big city (New York) with access to loads of mass transit, but he prefers to stick to the familiar places. All told, Jeremy reminds me of Joe Sylvester from Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat.

Jeremy, though, does have a friend who sticks with him through thick and thin. She also, knows how to help him push personal boundaries and try new things. That's especially true after a beautiful wooden box is delivered to Jeremy with a note saying that all the of his father's advice is locked inside with an apology that the keys have been lost.

That set up is the start of a caper — namely the misadventures to unlock the box. Lizzy's lateral thinking is great for tracking down clues for the keys. But it also lands them both in trouble — and with mandatory community service.

Wendy Mass writes realistic fiction. Her worlds sometimes skin along edge of the plausible but when a book is set in New York with a man who has ties to Great Depression and doesn't seem to age even though his former clients obviously have, it's hard not to jump to supernatural conclusions. I should point out I was also finishing up James Ponti's Dead City trilogy at the time — so zombies in New York were at the front of my imagination.

But this book is a caper — a straight up caper — that uses the treasure hunt for the keys to reflect on life, death, and superstitions. Through their community service, Jeremey learns he's not the only one in this massive city who feels most comfortable in his own familiar blocks and with his own routines. He also learns that the city and by extension life itself is up to the beholder — every person has their own experience and their own philosophy.

It's a quietly compelling book.

Four stars

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