The Science of Breakable Things

The Science of Breakable Things

by Tae Keller


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Natalie's uplifting story of using the scientific process to "save" her mother from depression is what Booklist calls "a winning story full of heart and action."

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.

When Natalie's science teacher suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie thinks that this might be the perfect solution to all of her problems. There's prize money, and if she and her friends wins, then she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids—flowers that survive against impossible odds. Natalie's mother has been suffering from depression, and Natalie is sure that the flowers' magic will inspire her mom to love life again. Which means it's time for Natalie's friends to step up and show her that talking about a problem is like taking a plant out of a dark cupboard and giving it light. With their help, Natalie begins an uplifting journey to discover the science of hope, love, and miracles.

A vibrant, loving debut about the coming-of-age moment when kids realize that parents are people, too. Think THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH meets THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH.


"Natalie's Korean heritage is sensitively explored, as is the central issue of depression."
Publishers Weekly

"A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience."
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

"Holy moly!!! This book made me feel."
—Colby Sharp, editor of The Creativity Project, teacher, and cofounder of Nerdy Book Club

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524715694
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/21/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 117,900
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Tae Keller grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she wrote stories, ate Spam musubi, and participated in her school's egg drop competition. (She did not win.) After graduating from Bryn Mawr College, she moved to New York City to work in publishing, and she now has a very stubborn Yorkie and a multitude of books as roommates. Her next middle grade novel, When You Trap a Tiger, is forthcoming. Visit her at, follow her on Twitter at @TaeKeller, and be sure to join her newsletter at

Read an Excerpt

Mr. Neely just wrote our first lab book assignment on the board in his scrunched- up, scratchy handwriting, and he’s getting all excited about this scientific process stuff. I’m not sure why he feels the need to use hashtags and spell perfectly innocent words with a z, but he’s one of those teachers you don’t bother questioning.

He has big plans for this lab notebook. Apparently, he thinks it’s important to teach students “dedication to long- term projects,” and this assignment is his grand solution. Basically, we’re supposed to observe something that interests us and spend all year applying the scientific process to our capital- Q Question. 

As soon as we sat down, he passed out these dorky old composition notebooks and said, “This will be your Wonderings journal! You will record lab notes and assignments, and document the greatest scientific journey of all time— your scientific journey!”

We all stared, trying to figure out if he was for real or not. He was.

“You’ll spend this year developing your own scientific process, and it all starts with one question—that thing that sparks you to life.” Mr. Neely made a weird explosion gesture with his hands, and someone in the back of the room giggled, which only seemed to encourage him. “By the end of the year, I’ll be the one learning. From you!”

Mr. Neely is a new teacher, so he’s still all optimistic and stuff, but personally I think this assignment’s a lost cause. Last year, our English teacher, Mrs. Jackson, thought it’d be really great for us to keep journals. The only requirement: fifty pages by the end of the year, written from the heart. If you haven’t guessed already, that just resulted in everyone writing all fifty pages the day before the journals were due. I mostly filled mine with song lyrics, copied in my biggest, sloppiest handwriting.

And technically, this is supposed to be homework, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t get a head start. Without further ado, dearest lab notebook, I present Natalie Napoli’s Scientific Observations:1
• Mr. Neely waves his arms in big circles when he talks, which makes him look like an overeager hula dancer. His white button-down—bright against his dark brown skin—wrinkles as he moves.
• He tells us he wants us to “embrace the joys of science.”
• Mikayla Menzer raises her hand.
• Mikayla Menzer answers without being called on. She says, “Science is literally the joy of my life. I am literally embracing it right now.”
• Mikayla Menzer is not literally embracing anything. She’s just sitting at her desk, catty-corner to mine, with her hands clasped in front of her, and her thick dark braid twisting over her shoulder.
• Mikayla Menzer smells like sunscreen, which kind of makes the entire classroom smell like sunscreen, and the air in here is damp and hot. I wish Fountain Middle had air-conditioning.
• I wish we had enough money for me to go to Valley Hope Middle, which does have AC, but now that Mom’s “sick,” Dad says we need to “tighten our belt a notch.”
• And anyway, Twig’s here, even though her family can definitely afford Valley Hope, so I guess this place isn’t so bad.2
• Mr. Neely is saying my name, but I haven’t been listening, so I just nod at him and give him my best I’m embracing science smile.
• Mr. Neely says, “I’m glad you’re having so much fun with the assignment, but making observations is supposed to be homework, Natalie. Please pay attention in class.”
• I am paying attention.
• And Mikayla Menzer still smells like sunscreen.
1 Only the most brilliant observations you’ll ever read. Imagine you’re hearing a drumroll right now. Go on, imagine it.  
2 Twig: best friend in the entire galaxy. (Her words.)  

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The Science of Breakable Things 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
LehuaParker More than 1 year ago
The Science of Breakable Things is a debut middle grade novel by Hawaii-born Tae Keller. It’s a great read for tweens and those young at heart. Told through Natalie’s eyes and her science journal, we see how her mother’s depression affects Natalie from her friendships and family relationships to her own self-image to how she explains the world around her. Tae nails the transition from childhood to teenager. The friendships and conflicts ring true. One of the best parts was the magical thinking of how a rare blue orchid would cure her mother; if Natalie could just get one, everything would go back to normal. It’s a touching, endearing, and completely captivating examination of how a child centers the world on herself and how she grows to understand that not only are things not her fault, they’re also not in her power to fix. With a very light touch, Tae also explores mixed racial heritage challenges and conflicts. Natalie is part-Korean. Generational biases are brought to the forefront as her father tries to nullify his Korean-ness as Natalie tries to embrace it through connecting with her Korean grandmother. It’s one of the smallest and most powerful ways Natalie asserts her own identity. Can’t wait to read her next work.
mgbookjunkie More than 1 year ago
Thank you to Tae Keller for providing an ARC to #collabookation. This book, about a seventh grader's struggle to understand and get through her mother's depression, tugs at the heart. Fortunately, Natalie has school to distract her. Her science teacher is working to hone observation skills and scientific exploration, and soon Natalie has a purpose, and friends who want to work to help her achieve it. I love the author's use of footnotes throughout. Taking part in Natalie's search to understand and fix her mom's depression is heartbreaking at times. Luckily, the book is lightened up by her wonderful father and terrific friends. This realistic look at mental illness could go far in comforting students who know someone going through depression.