The Multiplication of Elmer Whit (A Novel Equation)

Quoir. Sept. 2019. 270p. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781938480409.
Gr 7-10–Elmer Whit grows up the product of a mostly absent drunk father and a 15-year-old mother who concealed her pregnancy, then barely nurtured him once he was born. In this pedantic story, amorphously set in middle America and an anachronistic 21st century, little positive happens to Elmer before he falls under the pious gaze of Gloria Christensen, a middle-aged math teacher at his high school, who leads a campaign to find the poorly treated young man a true friend. The teacher’s contest adds sweet Elena to Elmer’s equation, multiplying Elmer to E². This serendipity is ascribed to God, who puts miracles in the pair’s path as they get permission, but no cell phone, to ride a bus to a town 500 miles away, where Elmer’s older half brother planned to relocate. Elena’s doting parents surprisingly allow a naive girl and her new friend to travel to parts and people unknown. What follows are pontifical, flowery, and even footnoted chapters of blessings: meals provided, library bedrolls, and even the loan of an old car. A quasi-angelic figure assists the duo with directions both literal and moral, only to fade away after his work is done. When the two must swiftly return home, they face obstacles but are still able to spread their message of friendship to those whose paths they cross.
VERDICT An out-of-touch, heavy-handed tale that’s perhaps valuable to collections needing squeaky-clean fare more than intrinsic teen appeal.

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