The Science of Breakable Things Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-06-27 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 0 user ratings

"I saw this book, and I was curious. The author was employing one of my favorite things, science, to tell the story of a young woman dealing with her mother's mental health issues, and it was done beautifully.

•Pro: Natalie was a charming and engaging narrator. Her voice was clear and real, and I cared very much about what she had to say.

•Pro: Nat's squad was top notch. Twig was already her steadfast friend, who grew over the course of the book, and she demonstrated how she was a true friend and supporter of Natalie's. I also thought Davi was a fabulous addition to their twosome, and together, this "team" had great strength.

•Pro: You have to know, that the science geek in me was all over so many things in this book. There were awesome illustrations, fun science investigations, and I loved when Natalie's reflections were told via the science report format. The way the formats were employed was very thoughtful and effective as well.

•Con: I liked dad, but I would have liked to know what his hang up was with his Korean heritage, and I would have liked to have seen Natalie explore that a little more with him. It was treated in passing in the book, which made it stand out to me.

•Pro: Yeah for therapy! Natalie's dad is a therapist, and he takes her to a therapist. Natalie may joke about therapist "tricks", but in the end, she admitted it made her feel better. At first, I thought maybe the family was ashamed of mom's mental health issues, but I think them keeping it under wraps had more to do with Natalie's youth, than shame.

•Pro: Keller did such a good job making me understand how Natalie felt about her mother's health issues. I ached for Natalie. When she would talk about her mother in the past tense, and how she missed her, it really tugged at my heart.

•Pro: So much growth! Natalie grew tremendously over the course of this book, and started seeing things that were always there in a new way. Keller expertly took us through Natalie's struggle to understand what had happened to her mother. It was real, it was honest, and her emotions were believable.

•Pro: There were all these fantastic things accomplished in the writing. The metaphors and parallels Keller presented were quite beautiful.

•Pro: This book deals with something painful and sad, but it moves in the direction of hope, which worked for me.

In her book, she'd written: Science is living. Science is asking questions and finding answers and never, ever stopping. I wanted to scream her own words at her, and I wanted to say, Why did you stop?

Overall: An honest look at how mental health issues can affect others within a family, which was told thoughtfully and beautifully.

*ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.


"Role: Discussion Director
Defintion: Look for important parts. After finding three or four sections, write a few questions to ask your Literature Circle group and answer them.


pg 200-201
Natalie is with Dr. Doris. In her mind, she tells herself to keep it in, but words “[leave her] lips without permission.” What is Keller’s purpose of showing such a conflict?

I think it speaks about the human psyche. Our minds tell us to keep things in because the problem isn’t that big or we can solve it ourselves. It’s when Nat starts opening up to Dr. Doris that she learns to appreciate therapy for what it is.

pg. 223
Natalie, Twig, and Dari don’t win the egg drop competition. Why do you think Keller didn’t let them win?

I think Keller wants to show that depression isn’t cured with a flower or an object in general. By the end, Nat’s mom is going to therapy twice a week and going to the greenhouse. By the end, Nat’s mom isn’t better, but she’s trying

pg 226
Natalie’s mom said she used cereal for her egg drop competition. Why do you think Natalie didn’t use this idea?

Natalie constantly reverts to the past and how things were through out the book, but the answers she finds aren’t in the past, but when she finally let’s herself be in the present. When she speaks without planning or holding back: 290. And on page 291, Nat’s mom reaffirms this by saying, “we don’t give up, we keep going and try something new.”

Pg. 274
Natalie mentions Twig had “changed last night or sometime long before that.” Are there examples of this? Why do you think it isn’t until the end that Nat mentions this?

I think Nat doesn’t notice or acknowledge the change until the end, because change is incremental and it’s not until a few notches have changed that people notice the inches they’ve grown. On pg. 41, Nat mentions how her and Twig no long tell each other anything because “everything was different now.” They would change the subject and let boardgames avoid hard conversations. But by pg 185,Twig opens up about how she feels as if she did something to make Nat upset with her. They “broke the pattern: of “[saying] something totally unrelated” (183).


" said.

"Like most bibliophiles or anyone looking for a good read, I'm always delighted to stumble upon a new author, especially one with such a fresh and authentic voice. If this debut book, filled with heartfelt passages and cool references to science and the eight steps in the scientific process--in fact, the book is framed by these steps and various assignments from Mr. Neely, the class's science teacher--is any indication of this author's promise, I won't be the only one eagerly awaiting her next one. While Tae Keller covers some familiar middle grade territory here, she also explores previously-unplumbed topics, most notably, parental depression. Seventh grader Natalie Napoli is worried about her mother who no longer bothers to come out of her bedroom or go to her botany lab. Even though Natalie's father himself is a therapist, he advises his daughter to give her mother some space. Reluctantly, Natalie does so, but she watches her mother slipping further and further away, and concocts a plan to earn money for a trip to New Mexico where her mother first saw the Cobalt Blue Orchids, plants that somehow defied the odds to survive against toxic waste. Her mother has built her research around these plants, and Natalie becomes convinced that maybe they can save her mother or put her back on track. As she forms a partnership with her best friend Twig and science geek Dari, the three middle graders try all sorts of designs for a package to insure that an egg will land safely from three stories above. The $500 prize could fund the New Mexico trip. Throughout the year, Mr. Neely has asked the students to answer one question using the scientific method, and Natalie poses the question that matters most to her as she tries to figure out what's going on with her mother and how she can help. As the school year evolves over the course of September to May, Natalie learns some hard-to-face truths about her mother's depression and her family while also embracing part of her cultural roots from her Korean paternal grandmother. This book was satisfying on so many levels. Parts of it made me smile as I read about a budding romance, and other parts made me wince at how Natalie assumes that her former friend Mikayla Menzer seems to have left her behind when there is something else going on. I could also feel the helplessness and desperation of Natalie's father as he tries to cope with his wife's depression and Natalie's anger toward her mother who she is sure isn't all that sick. This is highly recommended reading for someone dealing with a family member suffering from depression because it pulls no punches about how tough that is. While there is light at the end of the tunnel, it can often seem quite muted. I did wonder why Natalie's father didn't move more quickly to get help for his wife, though, but perhaps he thought that they could just ride things out. " said.

"Justina Wemhoff
Children’s Literature

My role for the Literature Circle discussing The Science of Breakable Things is as the Literary Luminary. This role requires choosing a paragraph or sentences from the book to discuss with the group. The purpose is to help other students by spotlighting something interesting, powerful, funny, puzzling, or important from the text. The Literary Luminary can read parts aloud themselves, or ask another group member to read them.

I have an electronic version, so I do not have page numbers to help with location.

Quote 1:
Assignment 18: Counting to 100
“Is it possible to be mad at someone for being sad?” “...Dad says this blankness isn’t her fault, but none of that mattered to me anymore because I was sitting right in front of her and she wasn’t listening to me.”

This quote really stuck out to me because depression is a difficult mental disorder to understand no matter what age you are. In this case, Natalie struggles to understand because she is hurting, blaming herself, and feeling unloved. She just wants the mother she knows and loves back. She thinks that her mom doesn’t care about her, so she tells herself she hates her mom and doesn’t care about her either.

Quote 2
Assignment 21: Doris Day
“...seeing Dad in the outside world was unsettling. I hadn’t realized until then how sucked up by mom’s sadness we’d been.”

I found this quote enlightening because it very clearly highlights that depression does not just impact the person with the mental illness. It impacts everyone close to the person as well.

Quote 3
Assignment 26: Eggs in Action
“ kind of made me feel like my family was bad at being Korean. Like I was bad at it...I usually forgot that part of me existed until my grandmother visited of someone brought it up… THat had never felt wrong until now.”

The two main parts to this story revolved around Natalie learning how to cope with her mother’s depression and around her cultural identity. As the story progresses, Natalie almost finds some sort of solace in accepting and embracing that part of her identity. She also influenced her dad to think positively about his Korean identity. She also finds comfort in trying to keep their family’s Korean traditions alive, particularly when it came to cooking. It was painful because it reminded her of when her mom was well, but it was also helpful. It makes me wonder how or why that helps her through it. I found it interesting that seeing Dari’s Indian family helped her see the importance of her cultural identity.

Quote 3
Assignment 32: Fly, Little S’meggs
“In that moment.. I got this huge surge of love for Dad and Twig and Dari… I missed mom of course.. But the weird part was that I didn’t feel angry or sad or uncomfortable about missing her, like I usually did. Instead, I felt hopeful...She would be okay because we would win and I would save her.”
This chapter was pivotal and potentially a climax of the story unless the breaking into the lab was the climax. This also felt important because it continues to show that Natalie feels guilt about her mom, like her mom’s depression is her fault. It’s also a common issue that those close to people with depression want to save or make that person better. Much of the plot revolves around Natalie’s idea that winning the competition and money in order to get her mom to see the blue orchids will make her better.

" said.

"Literary Luminary
The literary luminary looks for portions that evoke emotion or are thought provoking and shares these sections with the group, rationalizing their selection as well.

Ch. 6 Pg. 33 "Mom and Dad had been having whispered conversations at night, talking about problems at work, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know something was Wrong."

To me this section stands out as something everyone can relate to. Whether it is in regards to the exact situation with your parents from childhood, or even adulthood, a wife, girlfriend, boss, coworker. There are times when things feel off and you can't always tell why they are until it is too late. It made me think back to times when my family was going through issues with my father's work and them hiding it. I could see and hear that things were not going well, but didn't realize how bad they were until the whole thing had detonated and I were trying to suture everything back together.

Ch. 18 Pg. 105 "Looking into her eyes was like peering over the edge of a well and not being able to see the bottom. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to jump on the couch and wave my arms in the air and scream."

This section to me shows Nat's breaking point with her mother. She still wants to reconnect with her, but is left staring into the void. This can be one of the most disheartening and frustrating times trying to help someone dealing with internal strife. It's a make or break situation and at the current moment she is not ready to break it. It can be hard to keep throwing your hopes down the bottomless well hoping to hear the satisfying clink of the bottom, but being disappointed when your biggest hope fails to make even the smallest impact.

Ch. 26 Pg. 178 "I laughed and cheered, too, because this was exactly what I wanted, and I knew I should've been the happiest of all-but for some reason, the happy feeling turned sticky inside me."

Here we see Nat's frustration with her mother begin to sour her. When the creeping despair you are trying to help someone with spills into you and starts to corrupt what you think. Instead of inspiring hope that her plan will work and she will be able to take her mom to New Mexico she instead can't place this as success. The despair has wormed into her thoughts and made her think that nothing can change this situation she is in with her mother. Turning that smooth silky success into a thick coagulated swamp that keeps any hope from escaping.

Ch. 38 Pg. 271 "And that was when I started crying. I cracked open and cried like I would never stop crying, like I would cry until all of me was gone. I was too afraid to look up from my curled-up cocoon and see my parents, because they weren't the Mom and Dad I used to know. They were so much more now. Not perfect, not magic-but real."

This is where Nat begin to let go of her dammed up emotions as her situation with her mother starts to break out of it's stagnation. The relief she feels has brought her back to reality and has overwhelmed her with it's power. The relief comes from realizing that this was a real problem with a real solution. Granted the solution was just for time to pass and wounds to start healing from her mother's long term bouts with depression. Here we see that she realizes that it can be done, and not with magical thinking about some prize to get her there, but with real work that she and her mother can do to get over this.
" said.

"Stellar Summarizer
Date: 06/04/18
Title of Book: The Science of Breakable things Author: Tae Keller

Chapters or Page Numbers: 1-298 Literature Circle Name:

Important parts to remember for summary:

page #32 “Dad made some joke and I laughed and Mom didn’t. And then I thought: I can’t remember the last time Mom laughed.”

page #65-67 “’We just don’t have the money for travel right now,’ she repeated, eyes still closed” …. “And there, in big, bold letters and everything: GRAND PRIZE: $500!!!!!!”…. “I will win the money, and mom and I will fly to New Mexico. We’ll pick one of those magical blue flowers, and Mom and I will study it, and everything will go back to normal. Everything will be perfect.”

page #103 “One time when I slept over at Twig’s place, her mom commented that Twig should try to branch out and find more friends than just me…. But Twig shut her down real fast. ‘I don’t need anyone else, thank you very much,’”.

page #179 “The way Dad speaks—the way he’s always spoken—is smooth and rhythmic like one of those old-timey waltzes, but when he said that, I heard anger spike in his voice.”

page #200 “Why can’t everything just be okay again?”

page #247 “So I did the honors. I pushed Mom’s third key into the lock and opened the doors, and we were inside.”

page #277 “She looked like Mom again, with her Serious Business hair and her dirty hands and her crackling eyes, but she wasn’t exactly the same.”


The Science of Breakable Things revolves around a seventh grader named Natalie, her family, and her two closest friends—Twigs and Dari. Natalie’s botanist mother is suffering from depression throughout the whole book and it has an enormous negative impact on Natalie. She often feels as if her mother doesn’t love her enough to get better, or that it’s her own fault that her mother is suffering from a mental illness. Throughout the book, Natalie frequently shares memories of when her mother was happier in the past, and then she takes it upon herself to try and cure her mother’s mental illness. Natalie feels a strong connection with her mother through plants—especially the cobalt blue orchid in New Mexico. Through the help of Twigs and Dari, Natalie sets out to win an egg drop competition that awards $500 so that she can get plane tickets to New Mexico to get her mother a new cobalt blue orchid, believing that it could help her mother get back to normal. Natalie’s father is also suffering while trying to keep the family together and going, and both Natalie and her father are often hurt when her mother is not able to leave her bedroom for things like Christmas. Natalie and her friends end up losing the egg drop competition, and Natalie is distraught. Natalie and her friends decide to break into her mother’s lab at the university that she worked at in order to plant a cobalt blue orchid for her mother. While there, they trigger an alarm and get caught. All three of the children get in trouble, but this situation helped Natalie’s mother be able to go see a therapist and get help dealing with her depression. The novel ends with Natalie not wishing for her old mother back, but rather embracing her mother as how she truly is—struggles and bad days included.
" said.

"Literature Circle- Stellar Summarizer. As the stellar summer I am to pull out important parts of the summary and record the page numbers. As part of my role I am to write a summary of the entire book.
Book- The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
A strategy that the teacher Mr. Neely used from chapter 2 is he gave Natalie a choice in what she did as well as all the other students in this particular book. Giving students a choice is definitely something I will do in my future classrooms because they will enjoy projects and assignments more!

p.33 Mom and Dad had been having whispered conversations at night, talking about problems at work, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know something was Wrong.
p. 67 I took the flyer and I decided, right then and there: I’m not leaving Mom alone. I will win the money, and Mom and I will fly to New Mexico. We’ll pick one of those magical blue flowers, Mom and I will study it, and everything will go back to normal.
p.177 Twig and I ran after him, breathless while we waited for this analysis, and then he shouted, “It’s alive!”
p.186 “My mom didn’t come out of her room today,” I said blurting out the truth before I could talk myself out of it
p.188 We’re winning the contest and you’re going to New Mexico, and you’re gonna get yourself one of those blue flowers- no, you’re gonna get twenty blue flowers. You will fill your greenhouse with them.”
p.234 The egg drop was full of wanting and wishing and hoping. Now here I was- doing.
p.253 And there was Mom’s desk and her picture of Dad and me, and her calendar that stuck in July.
p.256 “Call Dana Menzer instead. She’s the head of this lab. Were- we’re friends of her daughter.”
p.271 “I’ve been- I’ve been depressed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, always. I am sorry.”
p.292 Hearts and eggs will break and everything changes, but you keep going anyway.


This book is about a 7th grader who was to come up with a science project for Mr.Neely. The project was to start out with a question that each of them were supposed to come up with as well as keeping a journal. However, when Natalie (main character) was asked about her question in class she came up with a smart question towards the instructor. At home her mother had some "issues" going on and wouldn't come out of the room, which bothered her. As time passed she did not have a question and Mr. Neely gave her a hand out that given to the "top" students in the class. The paper had to deal with an egg breaking contest. The project was to drop an egg from a 3rd story building without it breaking. She crumpled the paper up in her bag. She started slacking in class because she was worried about her mother and what was going on. Her dad was a therapist and made her go see another therapist named Doris to address what was going on. Then she started thinking about the blue magical flower her and her mother planted. She thought taking her mother to New Mexico to get another one would be the answer to her mother's "issue." The way she would do this was by entering the egg competition. She entered it with her best friend Twig and Dari. She thought the reason for her mother’s behavior was due to being fired from her job and she blamed it all on Makayla’s mom Dana, as well as, the magical blue flower dying in the greenhouse. Later, Twig, Dari and herself competed in the egg competition, but did not win. Therefore, she had to come up with another way to get a new magical blue flower. Natalie decided to break into the lab mom used to work at to get a new magical blue flower seed. In the process Natalie, Twig, and Dari were caught by the security guard going into Natalie’s mother’s office. Natalie had discovered that the office was just like mom had left it from July. The guard called Dana Menzer the owner of the lab, who then called the kids parents. When Dana dropped each of the kids off at their house Natalie found out her mom was not fired, but was suffering from depression. After the incident Natalie and her mother started to connect again. Her and her mother went to the greenhouse and started to plant colorful “plants” everywhere.
" said.

"The Science of Breakable Things
My Role: Word Wizard
My role is to find words throughout the text that sparked my interest. I chose to look for five words, that to me, had a double meaning within the context of the story, because I was interested in how those words, while relatively normal, meant so much more to the character once the story was read. My role also is to define those words and use them in an original sentence. I also need to explain specific areas within the book where you can find these words.
Word 1: Arboretum
Definition: a plot of land on which many trees or shrubs are grown for study or display
Sentence: The class took a field trip to the arboretum to study plants.
Specific area within book: Arboretum comes up a few times in the book when Natalie thinks back to her life before her mom started sleeping all the time in her room, before her mom’s depression took over their lives. Her mom was a botanist and had a love for plants, so naturally she would take Natalie to the arboretum. Not only does arboretum come up in the book as a happy place Natalie remembers going to with her mom, but I believe the word also means to Natalie happiness.

Word 2: Observation
Definition: 1) an act or instance of noticing or perceiving, 2) an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching, 3) the faculty or habit of observing or noticing
Sentence: Based on my observations, I have noticed that the high temperatures and being in direct sunlight is what caused my grass to turn brown already.
Specific area within book: This word came up quite often in the book. Every time the class has a science lab, all throughout the egg drop project, but specifically I wanted to point out the observations Natalie makes throughout the book that had nothing to do with making scientific observations. Throughout the book, we read about how Natalie started noticing her mom’s behavior was changing until she finally processed what was really going on. We learn through the reading that Natalie keeps making observations, such as how her mom’s boss said that they miss her at the lab, how she observed her mom actually still has an office at the lab, until these observations add up to what the truth is. I chose this word because observation was a word that was not so subtle throughout the text but ended up being a bigger part in the overall story than just scientific observations in which the word was used in the text.

Word 3: Miracle
Definition: 1) an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is described to a supernatural cause, 2) such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God, 3) a wonder, marvel
Sentence: It was a miracle that nobody was hurt in that accident.
Specific area within book: This word is used to describe the Cobalt Blue Orchid that Natalie’s mom was studying before she went into depression. The orchid should have died along with everything else during a chemical accident in New Mexico but grew back a vibrant blue color instead. In the book, we read about how not only this delicate flower surviving, but becoming a vibrant color was a miracle. In the book, miracle comes up as what it would take for Natalie to get her mom back to the way she was before, and that miracle being winning the egg drop contest to get the money to take her mom to witness first hand the miracle of the Cobalt Blue Orchids.

Word 4: Hypothesis
Definition: a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis’s) or accepted as highly probably in the light of established facts, 2) a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument, 3) the antecedent of a conditional proposition
Sentence: My hypothesis is that if we don’t water the grass, it will die.
Specific area within book: In this book, Natalie and her friends hypothesized how their designs would work for the egg drop. Also, in the book, we find out that the reason behind why Natalie’s mother was depressed was different than what Natalie had hypothesized.

Word 5: Operation
Definition: 1) an act or instance, process, or manner of functioning or operating, 2) the state of being operative (usually proceeded by in or into), 3) the power to act, efficacy, influence, or force
Sentence: Our operation is to get from point A to point B.
Specific area within book: In the book, Natalie’s friend, Twig, decides to make a game out of the egg drop competition and names the experiment Operation Egg. She thinks that this makes the experiment more fun, not fully knowing the reasoning behind why Natalie decided to do this competition. However, to me, the whole book was describing Natalie’s own operation, which was to bring her mom back from her depression.
" said.

July 2018 New Book:

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