Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
is a young adult novel by Wendy Mass. Published in 2006, it contains information that links it to Mass’s 2008 novel Every Soul a Star
. An independent film version of the book premiered in 2012.
The novel begins shortly before Jeremy Fink’s thirteenth birthday. Jeremy and his long-time best friend, Lizzy Muldoun are hanging out in Jeremy’s New York City apartment when the mailman delivers a package addressed to Jeremy’s mother. A curious Lizzy convinces Jeremy to open the package, which contains a wooden box with four keyholes in it. The box is accompanied by a note which reads, “The meaning of life: For Jeremy Fink to open on his thirteenth birthday.” When Jeremy’s mother returns home, she explains that she doesn’t have the keys for the box and that Jeremy must find them before his birthday.
Jeremy and Lizzy begin hunting for the keys. First, they visit a clockmaker, and then they go to a pawn shop, but neither location has anything that might fit the box. Finally, they decide to go to the return address posted on the package the box was delivered in. This turns out to be a secure office building that the children cannot enter without permission. Lizzy comes up with a plan to sneak into the office, but they are caught and sent to the security office.
As part of their punishment, Jeremy and Lizzy are ordered to do community service for Mr. Oswald. Oswald is a pawn shop owner who is planning to retire soon, but he needs help cleaning out his shop before he can close it. He gives Jeremy and Lizzy the task of returning items that were pawned years ago to their original owners. Each item is also accompanied by a note explaining why the owner pawned it.
The first package the children deliver is for Mable Billingsly. It contains a copy of the book Winnie the Pooh
which is signed by A.A. Milne. Surprised to see the book, Mable reveals that she pawned it when she was a little girl and has not thought about the book since.
The next day, Lizzie pressures Oswald to explain why he is sending them on these errands. Oswald is evasive but promises that they will understand in time. He gives the children another package to deliver. Jeremy and Lizzy are tasked with returning a lamp to Mr. Rudolph. Rudolph tells them that everyone has a purpose on earth, and they will find theirs in time. Before they leave, he gives Lizzie the lamp as a gift and gives Jeremy an apple.
After the meeting, Jeremy is confused about what his purpose might be. He and Lizzy visit Jeremy’s new neighbors, Samantha and Rick. Samantha offers to perform a séance to help Jeremy get in touch with his recently deceased father, but this only serves to upset Jeremy.
The next day, Jeremy and Lizzy return a telescope to Amos Grady, an employee at the Natural History Museum. Grady talks to the children about time travel, telling Jeremy that it is impossible to change the past, and even if he were able to travel through time, he would not have been able to prevent his father’s death.
However, Jeremy does remember that his father spoke to a fortune teller who predicted his death shortly before he died. Lizzy thinks that the fortune teller may have information about the mysterious box, and so they set off for Atlantic City to find her. Once they get there, they wander the boardwalk until they find the fortune teller, but she admits that she is not really a psychic and only pretends to be one for money.
Jeremy and Lizzy return to Mr. Oswald, who tells them that their community service is over because he is closing up shop and moving to Florida the next day. As a way of thanking them, he lets them each take one thing from his shop. Lizzy chooses an antique doll, and Jeremy takes a suitcase full of hundreds of keys, hoping that some of them might fit in the box.
Jeremy begins trying keys in the box, and he discovers three that fit. He takes a break to go to the fair with Lizzy, who is going to hula hoop in a talent competition. However, she gets nervous before taking the stage, and Jeremy has to take her place. He receives second place in the competition.
A few days later, Jeremy celebrates his thirteenth birthday. Lizzie surprises him with a gift: the fourth key that fits in the box. Jeremy opens it and finds a pile of stones, along with a note from his father that explains each stone represents an important event in his life. Jeremy returns to Oswald, who explains that Jeremy’s father left him the box to help him understand all the different events that give life its meaning.