46 pages 1 hour read

Wendy Mass

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006) is a realistic middle grade novel that follows best friends Jeremy and Lizzy on their quest to find the meaning and purpose of their lives as they try to unlock a gift from Jeremy’s late father. The book was nominated for several major awards, including the Nutmeg Book Award in Connecticut (2010) and the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award in Illinois (2010). The book was adapted into a film in 2012, and the adaptation won Best Family Film at the Garden State Film Festival the same year. New York Times bestselling author Wendy Mass has written over 30 novels for young readers, including A Mango-Shaped Space and the Twice Upon a Time fairy tales, which have been translated into over 30 languages and won a combined total of over 90 awards. She was named author of the year by the New Jersey Association of School Librarians in 2018, and she penned the storyline for an episode from the long-running television series Monk. She currently lives and writes from New Jersey.

This guide follows the 2010 Little Brown Books for Young Readers Second e-book edition of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

Plot Summary

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life opens one month before the titular character’s 13th birthday, and the story's events kick off with Jeremy receiving a package from his long-dead father. The package contains a wooden box with four locks, and the lawyer who’s been overseeing it has lost the keys. Jeremy’s dad left instructions for him to open the box on his 13th birthday, and together with his best friend Lizzy, Jeremy searches for keys that will unlock the box.

The box allegedly contains the meaning of life as understood by Jeremy’s father, and every step along the journey toward finding the keys brings Jeremy and Lizzy closer to understanding themselves and the world. Their search begins close to home, where they try the local lock shop and a flea market Jeremy’s dad used to frequent. When these places yield no usable keys, the kids visit the lawyer’s office, but the lawyer has since relocated. While searching the empty office, they are caught by a police officer, who assigns the kids community service working for a pawnbroker named Mr. Oswald.

In addition to owning a pawnshop, Mr. Oswald is also a collector and celebrated member of the antiques community, which has netted him a fair amount of wealth. He tasks Jeremy and Lizzy with delivering objects back to their original owners. Each delivery brings Jeremy and Lizzy closer to understanding who they are and what role they play in the world, but their search for the keys grinds to a halt.

On their last day working for Mr. Oswald, he asks both kids to pick out anything they’d like from his office. Jeremy is undecided until Mr. Oswald points out a suitcase filled with odds and ends, including keys. At home, Jeremy and Lizzy try all the keys they find in the suitcase on the box, unlocking three of the locks. Jeremy is disappointed they are only one lock away and that he won’t get the box open by his birthday, now only a few days away.

As is tradition, Jeremy and Lizzy visit Jeremy’s grandmother for the state fair, where they enter the young talent contest. Lizzy will hula hoop while Jeremy tosses her objects, but days before the show, Lizzy gets her period for the first time and, as a result, feels too tired to perform. Jeremy takes her place, and they win second prize, which makes him realize that living his life to the fullest is more important than opening the box on a deadline.

On Jeremy’s birthday, Lizzy gifts him the last key, which she found in the suitcase and hid so she could give it to him on his birthday. Together, they open the box, which contains a letter from Jeremy’s dad, rocks his dad collected at key moments in his life, and a playing card that Lizzy’s been searching for to add to her collection. In a flash, Jeremy realizes the card could have only been put there by someone who knew she needed it and that Mr. Oswald was in on the search from the beginning. Mr. Oswald admits to everything: He helped Jeremy’s dad by orchestrating the search and keeping the secret. Jeremy ends the book feeling like he’s had the most special birthday of his life, understanding that love is the most powerful force in the world, and realizing that the meaning of life is simply to live it.