A opossum in rigor mortis “catches” a dodgeball and inspires a fifth-grade math project.
Narrator Ella’s aversion to math and desire for order collide in a day of disasters: there’s a dead, rotting opossum on the way to school, an impending visit by an eccentric aunt with her pet dog, and a math-group project that will count for two test grades. Ella’s project buddies are her longtime best friends Lucille and Jolina. Souders has a pretty good feel for middle (or nearly) school academic and social interactions. The girls have an affectionate—or at least tolerant—understanding of one another’s quirks and foibles. They are teamed with a new student whose only fault is his name (Ella’s mother’s therapy for her intense arachnophobia is to think of every spider as “Jonathan,” summoning automatic shudders). The rest of the characters fade to background or are caricatures, like Ella’s French-immigrant classmate, Jean-Pierre, whose clunkily stereotyped exclamations seem time-warped: “Sacre bleu!” “Zut alors!” The several occasions of people—and the dog—spitting up or spitting out are goofily gross but clearly calculated to appeal to the target audience. And the dreadful smell of the opossum seems at odds with its condition of rigor mortis. However, the satisfactory conclusion—a teacher’s recognition of a hurdle cleared—is within readers’ reach.
Diverting and frequently funny. (Fiction. 8-11)