by Erica S. Perl
There is only one thing 10-year-old Zelly Fried wants more than anything and that is a dog. Zelly is sure a dog will help her fit in with her new neighbors in Vermont, but her parents don't think she is ready yet. This is when Zelly's grandfather, Ace, hatches a preposterous plan in which Zelly will have a "practice dog", made from an old orange juice jug. She must feed it, walk it, and let it do its business. The only problem is how does someone fit in when they are walking around with an old jug?
When Life Gives You O.J. is really one of your atypical middle grade books. New girl in a new town trying to fit in with an eccentric family member whom the child really doesn't understand until something tragic happens. If this is all there had been in the story I may have just been ho hum about this book, but Perl added some flavor, like adding some salt and pepper onto an otherwise bland food and suddenly, it is good. Maybe not the best thing you have ever eaten, but good.
The flavor of this story is the cultural context, with Zelly's family being Jewish. The addition of various Yiddish words and phrases, stories and traditions peppered throughout gave life to a story that could have been bland into something charming. I also think there are a number of themes that young girls will be able to relate to. There were a few moments where I even found myself flashbacking to my own childhood with horrible sleepovers and rocky friendships.
I know this review doesn't make the book sound wonderful, but I really think that girls between 8-11 are really going to enjoy this one and may learn a few Yiddish words in the process.