Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life -- Wendy Mass

A month before his thirteenth birthday, an unexpected box arrives in the mail addressed to Jeremy Fink's mother (who NEVER gets packages in the mail).  After convincing the mailman to allow them to sign for the registered package, Jeremy and his best friend, Lizzy, consider opening it:

"If you're afraid of that federal offense thing," Lizzy says, "that's only if it's a stranger's mail.  I think."

"We will wait until my mom gets home," I say firmly.  I expect her to continue the argument, but instead she just stands by the box, looking a bit too innocent.

Gravely, I ask, "Lizzy, did you do something?"

In a rush she blurts, "It's not my fault!  The end of the tape just lifted right up!"

I jump from the chair to see that she has peeled away a few inches of the tape from the side of the box facing her.  I have to admit, it really had come up very smoothly, not ripping or taking any of the cardboard with it.  "Okay," I say quickly.  "Let's do it before I change my mind."

Upon opening it, Jeremy discovers that the package is actually meant for him.  Inside, he finds a locked wooden box engraved with the words:  THE MEANING OF LIFE:  FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY.  Immediately, he knows who the box is from -- his father, who died five years ago.  He also finds a letter (addressed to his mother) from the lawyer who was entrusted with the box and its keys:

Another reason to send it early--and you won't like this, I'm afraid--is that I seem to have misplaced the keys.  I am fairly certain that you sent them along with the box to my office, and I have a vague recollection of hiding them somewhere quite clever.  Alas, too clever, I'm sorry to say.

The locksmith I visited explained that the locking mechanism on the box is an intricate system of levers and pulleys.  Each of the four keyholes needs a different type of key, and an internal latch will prevent the box from being pried open.

So begins Jeremy and Lizzy's quest.  At first, they stick to the legit options, but eventually, they get caught doing something... not entirely legal... and get assigned community service hours.  That's when things get really interesting.

I'm especially impressed that Wendy Mass was able to explore the meaning of life AND be funny.  At the same time.  (Chapter 12:  The Existential Crisis is a prime example.)  For real.  How often does that happen in books?  Not very.

It wasn't just the search for the meaning of the life or Jeremy and Lizzy's adventures, either.  The book is also a chronicle of Jeremy and Lizzy's changing relationship -- and I'm not talking ROMANCE.  I'm talking just regular best-friends-growing-up-stuff.  Jeremy and Lizzy felt like real kids to me, and from the first few pages, I cared about them.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life has HEART.  I'll be reading A Mango Shaped Space as soon as I can get my hands on it.