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When Life Gives You O.J.

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  589 ratings  ·  105 reviews
For years, 10-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 OJ, Zelly's not so sure how far she's willi...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published June 14th 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Okay, so here's what I've been puzzling over with this book-- it's a PRIME example of the sort of book that sometimes struggles to find the right readers, I think. Because it takes real risks, in quiet ways. It doesn't announce itself as "quirky" or "zany." It just is those things, because it is human, and humans are those things...

The book is charming, yes. It is funny. The characters are real. The writing is impossibly good, without requiring flourishes. It is smart and witty and SIMPLE. In th...more
Children's librarians can be neatly divided into two categories with relatively little difficulty. Basically, they either love and adore dogs and all things doggie related or they don't. I don't. I was never the kid begging her parents for a hound. I did not dream of fluffy golden retriever puppies or watch the Westminster Dog Show on television with undiluted envy. As an adult, I've maintained my canine-related neutrality admirably. I don't dislike dogs, but I don't obsess over them. So when fo...more
Love the cover!
This is the story of Zelly Fried, an 11 year-old Jewish girl from Brooklyn recently transplanted with her family to Burlington, VT to live with her widowed grandfather Ace. Zelly really wants a dog and Ace proposes the practice dog--an empty OJ jug-that she walks, feeds and even practices with cleaning up after. Through OJ, she meets Jeremy, also Jewish, who becomes a quick friend. This is more the story of finding your place--being proud of your heritage, and learning responsibil...more
Picked this one up on the recommendation of a friend without really knowing what it was about. Zelly is ten years old and has moved to Vermont from Brooklyn with her family. Her grandmother has passed away and they have moved to live with her grandfather. I enjoyed how Perl dealt with several issues - fitting in, friendships, longing for something, relationships with family members, and more. A very relatable book for the age group I teach.
Katy Kelly

I loved this book. Zelly, like a lot of 10 year olds, is feeling that life has given her a sack lemons. Her family left NY to move to Vermont and the only good that could come of it is that she could finally have a dog of her own. But her parent nix the plan. Luckily, her wacky grandfather has a wacky idea. To prove she's worthy she creates a practice dog, named O.J. after the carton that makes up his body. A lovely, entertaining read.
Mary Ann
Zelly Fried wants a dog more than anything, but her parents aren't convinced. When her eccentric grandpa Ace leaves her a note tied to an old orange juice jug, she's the one who isn't quite convinced. Ace has cooked up a plan for Zelly to have a "practice dog" to prove to her parents that she really is ready to take on the responsibilities of owning a dog. Will Zelly be able to do this? She really does want a dog. But she's sure that she will die of embarrassment "walking" an old orange juice ju...more
Zelly Fried moves from Brooklyn to Vermont with her family to support her aging grandfather. More than anything, Zelly wants a dog. Her grandfather, Ace, convinces her to use an orange juice bottle as a practice dog. The rest of the novel tells how Zelly makes friends, adjusts to life in Vermont, and builds a relationship with her sometimes difficult grandfather.

This middle grade novel reminded me very much of the Kate Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Both novels include strong girls w...more
Kristi Bernard
Zelda Fried, pronounced freed, wants a dog, wants to go to camp Sonrise with her best friend Allie, and she wants to move back to her old neighborhood. That's quite a bit for an almost eleven year old going int the sixth grade.

When Zelly asks her parents if she can go to camp with her best friends, the answer was no, although her parents congratulated her for making a good case. The problems is they've recently moved to Vermont to a new house. You see, she recently lost her grandmother whom she...more
The premise of this book is great--Zelly and her grandfather hatch a plan to convince her folks to let her get a dog, she'll take care of a practice dog made out of an empty O.J. bottle (including feeding, walking, and picking up pretend poo). However the book is not as funny as the premise--it is actually a much more serious book about relationships and family, responsibility and death. It captures the way that kids really do relate to people who are a lot older then they are--a little bit of f...more
K. East
This was the first of the Sunshine State Young Reader nominee books that I have read this year, and I can only hope that the next 14 books go up from here. These books are meant for upper elementary kids so it's probably not fair that an adult is the reviewer. However, I found the main character, Zelly, and her grandfather, Ace, two of the most unlikeable characters I've run into in a long time. I appreciate that as the oldest child Zelly felt like her younger brother got all the accolades while...more
Carolyn Arrington
This is a 2014-2015 Virginia Readers' Choice book for elementary students.

When 10 year old Zelly Fried moves from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Vermont she tries to fit in. In her multi-cultural neighborhood in Brooklyn it wasn't hard but in Vermont she and her family stand out. They moved to Vermont to be with Ace, Zelly's grandfather, after his wife dies. Zelly desperately wants a dog but her parents aren't ready to make that committment. Zelly's loud, bossy grandfather comes up with a plan. He creates a...more
Charming, adorable, cute! The chapters are a tad long, so it might take an 8-12 year old some time to finish one. One chapter a night might be asking a lot for an 8 year old. But very adorable book! I LOVED the dictionary at the end! And I have to admit that when I read she finally got her puppy, I teared up. I loved the paw prints at the beg of each chapter and the lil bones!
Zelly was persistant with O.J. and it paid off!

*I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.*
Erica Perl
May 28, 2011 Erica Perl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)
OK, I'm biased (I'm the author), but here's what PW said:

"In this warm novel about family, friendship, and fitting in... Perl (Vintage Veronica) offers a refreshing take on the grandparent-grandchild rapport. The novel strikes an admirable balance of humor and pathos--at times in the same scene."

And called it "a must-read for all 8-12 year olds."

But don't just take our word for it, pour yourself a glass! Because O.J. isn't just for breakfast anymore.
I loved this little book. A wonderful chapter book for younger children (second-fourth grade is where I see it). This is the story of Zelly and her grandfather and a discarded plastic jug that becomes Zelly's "practice dog." Themes of family, friendship, and responsibility run through this story. Will appeal to boys and girls alike. Also reminds me that we don't see too many books with young Jewish protagonists outside of Holocaust literature.
Victoria Whipple
I did not want to read this book because I was so turned off by the cover art. But, it was the only MCBA book on my shelf as I was leaving for the weekend, and I needed something to read. This book turned out to be so much better than its cover! Like many 10-almost-11 year olds, Zelly want a dog. Her grandfather convinces her that a great way to prove that she is ready for a dog is to have a "practice dog", in the form of an empty orange juice carton. The story takes place over the summer before...more
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Loved this book! A great look at what is irritating yet lovable about our families through the relationship of Zelly and her grandfather, Ace. You laugh and you cry at the evolution of the relationship during the course of the book. The additional messages about challenges and changes in friendships make this a great middle grades read for kids 9-12. I'd highly recommend it!
Sweet kid's book for book club that is true to many issues 11 year olds face: really wanting a dog, missing a deceased grandparent, fear of public embarassment, needing to fit in, and putting up with a younger sibling. Zelly really wants a dog, so her Grandpa (Ace, who talks in CAPITAL letter as such a force) challenges her to take on a "practice" dog -- an empty OJ gallon jug. To feed it, she must fill it with kibble, then walk it, and empty it as essential poop scooping duty. Of course this is...more
Judi Paradis
Zelly's family moved from New York City to Vermont after her grandmother died, in order to keep an eye on her rather difficult (somewhat crazy) grandfather Ace. Ace is a former judge who has very strong opinions about everything. Zelly desperately wants a dog, her parents say no. So Ace convinces her to make a pretend dog out of a gallon juice jug and take care of it (walking, feeding, even picking up after it--you'll see) to show her parents that she's capable. Of course, this makes her a bit o...more
My favorite part of this story was actually the Grandpa ... "Ace."

In my head everything he said was shouted. Kind of funny because neither of my grandpas shouted. It just really made the character that he was always so blustery and loud.

Zelly was an interesting character as well, though. Good one to give kids.
Alyson (Kid Lit Frenzy)
I wasn't exactly sure what the book was about when I picked it up but I loved who Perl pulled together this story about Zelly and her desire for a puppy along with wonderful elements of friendship and family and does it all well. Will add this to my list of read alouds for Second and Third grade this year.
This book is about a girl that really wants a dog and her parents will not agree, so they give her a empty gallon of orange juice and tell her that is her dog. Evreyday she drags it for a walk, feeds it, and takes it to the bathroom just like a real dog. This book was funny and a great story idea.
Really cute book. I appreciated how real the characters were and how believable the issues she was dealing with. I would recommend for 8-12 year old girls, or a fun quick summer read for the parent :)
Nice story abou getting adjusted to a new home, waiting for something you want,and relationships with grandparents. All the characters are lovable and the grandfather is particularly well-drawn.
What a funny, sweet story. Cranky grandfather + fake dog + early adolescent angst = charming. And the touches of grief and understanding elevate it beyond quirky. Very nicely done.
Loved this book. Honest and the characters are realistic -- not always likable but always relatable. Humorous but deals with the issues head on. Great for that upper elementary reader.
Franki Sibberson
A good middle grade novel. Deals with issues that are current and handled well for this age group. Lots of humor too which makes is a great read.
Edward Sullivan
A sweet, funny story with charming characters. The cover art is certainly among cutest of the year.
Addison Children
Zelly wants a dog. She wants a dog badly enough to try her grandfather's idea of a practice dog. OJ is a gallon plastic jug and every morning and evening Zelly adds dog food and water, then ties OJ to a leash and takes him for a drag. Along the way she must empty out the sodden food and pick it up with a baggy. All in all not a bad idea for learning the realities of dog ownership. Other plot points are the family's recent move to Vermont, living with grandpa, missing grandma (deceased), bullies,...more
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
For all kids who have ever really, really, and I mean REALLY wanted a dog.
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An accomplished and versatile writer, Erica S. Perl wears many hats literally and figuratively. Her middle grade novel, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J., is "a must read for all 8-12 year olds" ( It was named a Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book, and was a finalist for state book awards in VT and RI. The sequel, ACES WILD, came out in Summer, 2013.

She is also the author of several pictu...more
More about Erica S. Perl...
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