Knopf Books for Young Readers (ages 8-12)

Knopf Books for Young Readers (ages 8-12)

When Life Gives You O.J.

For years, almost-eleven-year-old Zelly Fried has tried to convince her parents to let her have a dog. After all, practically everyone in Vermont owns a dog, and it sure could go a long way helping Zelly fit in since moving there from Brooklyn.  But when her eccentric grandfather, Ace, hatches a ridiculous plan involving a "practice dog" named O.J., Zelly's not so sure how far she's willing to go to win a dog of her own.  Is Ace’s plan so-crazy-it-just-might-work… or just plain crazy?


Erica S. Perl weaves an affectionate and hilarious tale that captures the enduring bond between grandparents and grandchildren.  Even when they're driving each other nuts.

Buy This Book   /  Now available in audiobook!

Cover art by David Goldin 


Reviews of When Life Gives You OJ

Top TENSIXTEEN High-Fives for When Life Gives You O.J.

1. Starred review for the audiobook from School Library Journal! 
"Perl’s fabulous story receives first-class treatment in this audio version. Abigail Revasch is amazing as she creates different voices and styles for each character. Ace’s broad Jewish accent and his interfering, storytelling ways come across especially well here, as does the young but determined voice of Zelly. This delightful story will have listeners giggling, while rooting for Zelly’s ultimate pet success."

2. Amazon Best Middle Grade Book of the Month!

3. The Washington Post

4. ALA Booklist
Ten-year-old Zelly Fried has recently moved to Vermont from Brooklyn and longs for a dog. Her eccentric grandfather, Ace, develops the idea of a practice dog (in the form of an orange-juice container) and challenges Zelly to walk, feed, and clean it everyday to show her parents that she is responsible enough for the real thing. Zelly’s desire for a dog collides head-on with her desire not to stick out, and her attitude toward the practice dog (dubbed O.J.) and her combative relationship with Ace are complicated by her raw grief following the recent death of her grandmother. Zelly is a sympathetic, believably flawed character. The fact that she has as much to teach Ace as he has to teach her is just one satisfying element of this funny, often wise novel, which touches on issues of anti-Semitism and middle-school malice and includes a glossary of Yiddish words used throughout the text. In the end, Zelly’s triumph isn’t the dog she eventually gains, but the steps she takes to reach him.

5. Publishers Weekly
In this warm novel about family, friendship, and fitting in, 10-year-old Zelly and her family move from Brooklyn to Vermont to live with her recently widowed grandfather, Ace. An eccentric and vociferous retired judge who spouts Yiddish sayings and outlandish fish tales, Ace devises a plan for Zelly to prove to her parents that she's responsible enough to get a dog. He gives her a "practice dog"--an orange juice jug "named" O.J.--that she must care for as she would a real dog. After Zelly's insightful new friend Jeremy (the only other Jewish peer she's met) advises her to start a dog-walking business, she drags her ersatz pet along. Perl (Vintage Veronica) offers a refreshing take on the grandparent-grandchild rapport. Ace's bossiness and brashness irk Zelly (he may have this effect on readers, too, as his speech is unfortunately rendered in all caps for most of the novel), yet there is a poignant undercurrent of love between them, as well as shared grieving for Zelly's grandmother. The novel strikes an admirable balance of humor and pathos--at times in the same scene. 

I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Published by Random House and available in June, it is a must-read for every 8-12 year old.  Erica deftly weaves everything our tweens deal with--friendships, bullying, fitting in, religion (yep, Zelly is Jewish), family, desperately missing her grandmother and trying to figure out her grandfather.  It may seem like a lot, but it's life and there is much in O.J. that our children will relate to.  (And, if they'll let you, borrow the copy when they're finished.)

7.  Slate's DoubleX Book of the Week!

8. "When Life Gives You O.J. is a stand-out novel – a book sure to be enjoyed and embraced." - Read Kiddo Read.

9. When Life Gives You O.J. is "the perfect summer read." - News and Sentinel

10. Katie Davis recommended When Life Gives You O.J. on Good Morning, Connecticut!

11. Mr. Schu turned into a veritable Johnny ORANGEseed, talking about and readingWhen Life Gives You O.J. all across the country!

12. "One of my favorites of the summer!" - Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kid Books.

13. "This book has staying power." - Colby Sharp, Fourth Grade Teacher and blogger at Sharpread.

14. "An excellent middle grade read!" - Lorna of Not for Lunch (who’d recommend to girls and boys and thinks it would make a great class read-aloud).

15. "When Life Gives You O.J... has the ability to make the reader think big.... Erica Perl has placed a fascinating little title in a seemingly simple package. Top drawer all around." - Betsy Bird a.k.a. Fuse # 8

16.  "When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica S. Perl, may be the best book of our time." - Book Trends blog (by student reviewer Max, 6th grade)

And then there are all of the fine folks at Goodreads...

Oh and there are even more... but don't just take their word for it.  Read it yourself!