Math, Mika, Mom, Melanoma.

Those four ‘M’ words wrap themselves around an intriguing and heartfelt plot.

solvingforMWhen Mika starts fifth grade at the middle school, her neat life gets messy. Separated from old friends and starting new classes, Mika is far from her comfort zone. And math class is the most confusing of all, especially when her teacher Mr. Vann assigns math journals. Art in math? Who’s ever heard of such a thing?

But when challenges arise at home, Mika realizes there are no easy answers. Maybe, with some help from friends, family, and one unique teacher, a math journal can help her work out problems, and not just the math ones. (from Penguin Random House)


MY THOUGHTS: The idea of having fifth grade a part of middle school hasn’t caught on in my part of the country, but that’s how it’s done in Mika’s school district: K-4; 5-8; 9-12.

Most of the story takes place at home or in her math classroom, although there’s a quick side trip to Orlando to visit her dad. He’s remarried but still tries to connect with Mika. The world gets even more confusing when Mika’s mother finds a spot on the back of her leg and has it removed. It’s cancerous. With treatments and a lack of information, Mika isn’t sure what is going on.

Math comes to the rescue. Mika has never liked Math, but Mr. Vann has the class conceptualizing the subject in some unconventional ways.  The personal journal he has them create help Mika through this difficult time in her life more than anything else.

The first person narration through Mika’s eyes is the spot on way to tell the story.  There aren’t many middle grade books with cancer as a focus so this is a welcome addition to the shelves.


SOLVING FOR M by Jennifer Swender

  1. Mika’s 25 journal entries with illustrations balance the text nicely. They’re often funny, insightful, and heartfelt.
  2. I had a math teacher in High School who taught the class like Mr. Vann. I learn by actively doing and interacting, rather than listening to a long lecture. It’s no surprise the teachers you remember are the ones who stepped out of the box and made you do the same.
  3. Grandma is the grandmother Mika is lucky to have.  She’s there to support her daughter and granddaughter, doing so with no complaints. A great character.
  4. Mika’s new friends are also a treat: Dee Dee, a science geek (I have to find where I can get one of her hilarious science related t-shirts). And Chelsea who loves to cook.
  5. Readers might see Math and cancer treatment in a whole different light.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Jennifer Swender  (from the website she and her author husband share)

Before turning to writing full-time, Jennifer taught elementary school and preschool in Houston and New York City. Her debut middle grade novel Solving For M is available now! She is currently hard at work on her second novel which still needs a better title than… Book #2. Jennifer also develops curriculum materials for students and teachers. Check out her current project Girls4Tech.


Comments can be made below. I’ll be responding to each one this week!

Last week’s winner of SWEET HOME ALASKA is June McCrary Jacobs, an MMGM regular  with her fun reviews at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-Metic. Congratulations, June!

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, New Release and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to SOLVING FOR M

  1. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I have heard of schools that start middle grade with 5th grade, but not where I live. Interesting idea to have a math journal. This sounds like a great story for reading about Mika’s journal and maybe liking math better too.

  2. I disliked math as a student and would have found the math journal a unique and interesting approach to learning. I’ve only read a few picture books and maybe one MG novel where cancer was part of the story with a parent. Have read YA memoirs about with cancer themes. You would think there would be more books out there for readers to help them deal with their own situations. Will take a look at this book.

    I shudder to think of 5th graders in middle school — had a huge problem with 6th graders. Have always felt 5-6th graders should have their own school that lets them be kids and mature into the role. They are exposed to so much to fast — wasn’t good for my daughter in the 80s. Don’t understand the reasoning.

    • We have several K-8 schools around here that seem to be a better fit than slipping middle school in between. Kids know more than ever but don’t always make great choices. I mentor kids without dads and the eleven and twelve year olds seem more like the 15 and 16 year olds when I was that age.

  3. Danielle Hammelef says:

    I love math-centered books as I’m a math geek myself. I loved Miscalculations of Lightning Girl earlier this year. We have a separate 5/6 school here where I live.

    • Interesting. I would think having a 5-6 school would be good, except parent support is often hard to get when the experience only lasts two years.

      • Danielle Hammelef says:

        The parent support was actually quite good–the entire districts’ kids are in this one school for 5/6. Then the kids move to a 7/8 school before HS.

      • That’s good to hear. We have a 7-8 school nearby that has had a hard time getting their footing. Parents are too focused on which high school their child will attend. It all starts with leadership though and it sounds like your district is approaching it right.

  4. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    This sounds like a totally neat book! The focus on so many unique subjects, such as math and cancer, sounds especially appealing. Thanks so much for the review!

  5. This sounds terrific. There are many ways students learn, and the really great teachers find ways to reach those students. I will look for this one. Thanks for the review.

  6. Andrea Mack says:

    I’ve been curious about this one and your review has made me want to read it! I’m intrigued by the idea of the math journal, too.

  7. This one sounds good–and not *too* sad despite the tough subject matter. I like books with journal entries. Thanks for your review!

  8. Pingback: STUCK | Always in the Middle…

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