Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

S. & S./Aladdin. May 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534484924.
Gr 4-7–Mira dreams of being an astrophysicist, but first this middle-schooler must make it through the worst summer of her life. Things start out with a literal bang as her experiment to create plasma by microwaving grapes goes awry. Her unemployed dad searches unsuccessfully for a job, her best friend now lives hundreds of miles away, and her science-fair nemesis shows up at all the wrong times. And when Mira’s beloved cat Sir Fig Newton falls ill, the family cannot afford treatment. Mira gathers information, analyzes data, and arrives at a plan to save him. Scientific facts are woven into the first-person narrative, with Mira’s feelings often described in astrophysical terms: embarrassment as a black hole, frustration as superheated energy, and solitude as an asteroid’s aftermath. A vibrant cast of secondary characters includes Mira’s church-going grandmother, who convinces her granddaughter of the value of faith. Mira, whose mother is white and father is Black, finds inspiration through the experiences of noted women scientists of color; brief descriptions of trailblazers like Mae Jemison fit neatly into the narrative. The plot takes one detour that minimizes the potential seriousness of an allergic reaction, but gets back on track to reach a satisfying conclusion.
VERDICT Middle grade readers looking for realistic stories with engaging protagonists will enjoy meeting Mira, a girl whose passion for science gives her a sense of purpose and the tools to solve problems.

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