Committee for Children Blog

Book Review: Death by Eggplant

by Susan Heyboer O'Keef
Reading level: Grades 5–8

As if it's not enough for Bert to keep mind, body, and culinary aspirations intact throughout his eighth-grade year, he now has baby Cleopatra to protect as well. Resentment turns to grudging big-brotherly concern for little Cleo as Bert gradually loses sight of the fact that “she” is in fact a five-pound sack of flour given to him as a school assignment on taking responsibility. And when Bert’s “mortal enemy,” Nick Dekker, is given the same assignment after taunting Bertie about his “baaaa-by,” Bert's task grows even more challenging. Our hero is used to finding himself facedown on the playground, decked by Dekker. But now his rival is seething and ready to step up his bullying activities, and is even prepared to attack defenseless flour babies.

Mixed emotions reign as Bert handles his school problems. Being a chubby teen boy who hopes to become a world-famous chef does not help matters. However, Bert does have a knack for self-preservation and a sturdy sense of humor about himself, both of which go a long way toward keeping him sane in his nutty world. His self-confidence grows along with his sense of responsibility, and by the end of his flour sack project, Bert is able, in full view of his classmates, to don his beloved chef's hat and proclaim his passion for cooking…and to reject Nick's efforts to psychologically squash him.

Death by Eggplant

O'Keefe's novel is by turns a preposterous yet entertaining romp and a piercing look into the life of a middle school misfit. In spite of his kooky mother, statistics-obsessed father, and a boy who wants to destroy his chances at passing eighth grade, Bert learns the lesson every teen is supposed to learn: It's okay to be who you are and let others be who they are. In other words, live and let live.

Emilie Coulter
Book Reviewer
Committee for Children