This egg drop competition thing...I never heard of it until they did it on Modern Family. But apparently, it's a thing. At schools and in communities. Egg drop contests. Contestants attempt to create a protective little shelter for a raw egg, which will then be tossed over the side of a building. If the egg is cushioned well enough that it doesn't break upon landing, you win. Or you tie, I guess, if there are multiple unharmed eggs. In her book jacket bio for her MG novel The Science of Breakable Things (Random House, 2018), Tae Keller tells us that she participated in such a contest at her school growing up in Honolulu, but she was not victorious. Still, the idea of this contest does make for a compelling story line for her book.
Seventh-grader Natalie needs the prize winnings from the egg drop competition she's been convinced to enter by her strange but thoughtful science teacher Mr. Neely. Why does she need $500? Well, Natalie's mom is going through a major depressive episode, and Natalie believes that if she can just get her mother to New Mexico to see the rare Cobalt Blue Orchids, her mother's spirit will be lifted out of her depression. Mom is (was) a botanist, but since she started staying in bed for days at a time, she hasn't taken care of any of the flowers in the family's greenhouse, including their own Cobalt Blue Orchid. So all the plants at home are dead, Mom is a shell of her former self, and Dad is just trying to hold things together. When Mr. Neely suggests the egg drop contest might be a good way for Natalie to complete her scientific question assignment, Natalie enlists her best friend, Twig, and a new boy named Dari to help. Friendships are tested, friendships are formed, and Natalie tries her best to make an unbreakable egg to fix her broken mother.
One of the things I like most about The Science of Breakable Things is that Tae Keller did not make any of the three kids- Natalie, Twig, or Dari- some kind of science genius who could win them the contest without, well, breaking an egg. These kids are real. Their quirks and behaviors are genuine. Natalie is an average student. Twig is offbeat. Dari is an anxious sort. I know these kids. They've been in my classroom, and they come to my library. They do seem more like 6th graders than 7th graders to me, but that's just a small quibble. Twig is an especially endearing character. I've known so many kids like Twig, and they're all wonderful, as is Twig. If they're lucky, they find a friend like Natalie who is supportive and accepting.
The Science of Breakable Things is ultimately a story about a girl dealing with the broken world that's left behind in the wake of her mother's mental illness. Natalie may not know much about the scientific method at the beginning of the story, but by the end, her experiments have yielded just the right results.