From the Desk of Zoe Washington meets Ways to Make Sunshine in this heartfelt middle grade novel about a determined young girl who must rely on her ingenuity and scientific know-how to save her beloved cat.
Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is looking pretty bleak. Her best friend Thomas just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida to Washington, DC. Her dad is job searching and he’s been super down lately. Her phone screen cracked after a home science experiment gone wrong. And of all people who could have moved into Thomas’s old house down the street, Mira gets stuck with Tamika Smith, her know-it-all nemesis who’s kept Mira in second place at the school science fair four years running.
Mira’s beloved cat, Sir Fig Newton, has been the most stable thing in her life lately, but now he seems off, too. With her phone gone and no internet over the weekend at her strict Gran’s house, Mira must research Fig’s symptoms the old-fashioned way: at the library. She determines that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes. A visit to the vet confirms her diagnosis, but that one appointment stretched family funds to the limit—they’ll never be able to afford cat insulin shots.
When Mira’s parents tell her they may have to give Fig up to people who can afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the $2,000 needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Young readers who love science and cats will adore Sonja Thomas’s middle-grade novel, Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence. This heartfelt story follows Mira, a young science-loving Black biracial girl and aspiring astronomer, and her rollercoaster summer of changing friendships, her beloved cat’s “silent cat killer” diagnosis, and the implications this has on her family.
Taking place during Mira’s summer before seventh grade, Sir Fig Newton paints a holistic and in-depth portrait of every part of Mira’s life. I particularly enjoyed how the story explored friendships and how they inevitably change – how best friends can move away and fade despite all efforts to be best friends forever but then new friends – even your arch-nemesis – come along and make you feel whole again. Mira’s family life is a significant highlight of the book, her family close knit and loving but also sensitively explores how her father’s redundancy has ‘changed everything’, especially when money gets tight necessitating difficult decisions. And of course, when Sir Fig Newton, Mira’s beloved cat and best friend, falls ill, Mira must use her research skills, her creative and scientific mind, and determination to save him – because family will fight for each other.
Mira’s story isn’t quite as linear as other middle-grade stories. Mira encounters plenty of roadblocks and setbacks – even when the reader and Mira herself thinks that she’s pulled through – which truly challenge Mira but also bring out her strength and fortitude. There are moments of vulnerability, the story holds space for her scary feelings of anxiety, fear, and anger, and there are moments where Mira makes mistakes and has big feelings that she – and any of us if we felt how she felt – struggles to handle. (Plus, I loved that she always apologised and made amends, even if apologising can be hard sometimes.)
STEM-girl power comes into full force in this story, which will delight young readers who are interested in science and, if not, may inspire future scientists and curious thinkers. Mira’s love for science flows across the story, and readers will enjoy the science jokes that the story has to offer. While Mira approaches her problems in a logical and methodical way, what shines through is how Sir Fig Newton also explores how science isn’t just cold and calculative, but also comes from creativity, imagination and curiosity of the world around us. Unexpectedly, the story also delves into honest questions and complicated feelings about the intersections of science and faith, and how the two are not so different from one another.
Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is a thoroughly wonderful story that is, indeed, about science and perfect for cat-lovers, but also offers an unexpectedly profound and emotional message about the ever-changing landscape of friendships, the joyous highs and confusing lows of family life, and determination and persistence to save someone you love against all odds. Just as importantly, Sir Fig Newton is about, above all, a story about having faith in yourself that will inspire young readers to believe in themselves and their potential and power.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A science-loving girl must use her creativity and ingenuity when her cat is diagnosed with diabetes and her family cannot afford his treatment.
Perfect for: Young readers who love science and stories with fun facts, readers who love stories about cats, readers who are navigating changes in their lives (this book feels like a hug and a friend who understands).
Think twice if: If you aren’t looking for a story that explores negative emotions and feelings.
Genre: middle-grade contemporary