Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Life Gives You O.J., by Erica Perl - a funny, heartwarming family story (ages 8 - 12)

My daughter longs for a dog more than anything. She's thrilled that her best friend across the street has just gotten a dog, but it's also hard. She knows her dad will never let her get a dog. And so when I read the description of Erica Perl's new novel, When Life Gives You O.J., I knew this was going to be a great book for us to read. And indeed, it is truly a wonderful, funny, heartwarming book - but in so many lovely, unexpected ways. It's been one of my favorites of the summer.
When Life Gives You O.J.When Life Gives You O.J.
by Erica Perl
NY: Knopf, 2011
ages 8 - 12
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or online at Amazon
Zelly Fried wants a dog more than anything, but her parents aren't convinced. When her eccentric grandpa Ace leaves her a note tied to an old orange juice jug, she's the one who isn't quite convinced. Ace has cooked up a plan for Zelly to have a "practice dog" to prove to her parents that she really is ready to take on the responsibilities of owning a dog. Will Zelly be able to do this? She really does want a dog. But she's sure that she will die of embarrassment "walking" an old orange juice jug tied to a leash, feeding it and having it, um..., go to the bathroom (yes, you'll have to read it for details!).

Erica Perl has definitely written a funny book with great dialog and funny situations, but she's created characters that will stay with me long after my reading. Zelly and her grandfather are rich, fully developed characters whose relationship grows in touching ways through the course of the story. Zelly lost her beloved grandmother just a few years before and she's still struggling with that loss. Perl handles both Zelly's family and friendship issues with sensitivity. Zelly's family is one of the few Jewish families in her Vermont neighborhood, and her grandfather's dialog is full of Yiddish phrases.

I was touched by the way Zelly grew through the course of the story. She definitely had weaknesses, losing her temper with Ace and shouting at him. But she also came to understand him more fully. As she realizes toward the end of the book, "I guess sometimes you don't know things about yourself until you do."

I'm going to recommend this to students who like realistic fiction, like The Year The Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice or Rules, by Cynthia Lord.

The review copy was kindly sent by the author. For other great reviews, check out KidLitFrenzy and Modern Jewish Mom.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. Loved this book! Ace carried the book for me. Such a cool character.

  2. Loving the new blog look. When Life Gives You O.J. looks like a lot of fun and the cover makes me smile.

    Is this Perls first middle grade novel?

  3. Spot on review! So many great themes for kids to relate to: family, friendships, moving/relocating, etc.

  4. Colby - I loved Ace, too. He made me think so much about my own grandfather, even though he was completely different!

    Doret - I think it is. I've had a lot of fun with her PBs, but I think this is her first novel. Will have to check that out. Great character development & humor! Looking forward to more about Ace & Zelly!

    Thanks "notforlunch"! I'm looking forward to sharing it with kids this fall!