Review (Plus): The Square Root of Summer

TheSquareRootOfSummer_9781626723733_c3fe3BookShelf Blurb: Overwhelming grief makes 17-year-old math prodigy, Margot, discover wormholes and vortex time changes–giving her the ability to escape the reality of life continuing despite loss. If only we could all jump into a black hole, but as Margot learns, black holes, eventually, spit you out.

America’s Review: Once I caught a glimpse of the cover, I knew I wanted to read Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s debut novel, The Square Root of Summer. So when Beth Golay, my boss, gave me a copy, I was thrilled to see it was even signed to Ms. America!

Now, even though the cover caught my attention, I was a little put off that the The Square Root of Summer had been coined “The Time Traveler’s Wife for YA.” I don’t particularly like being told preconceived notions about anything: people, places or even books. I like to judge for myself… and judge I do!

I didn’t find The Square Root of Summer to be like anything I have read. I was instantly consumed with the characters and their relationships with each another. Margot, who is referred to as Gottie by all her friends and family, is suffering from delusions and it becomes obvious she has lost someone extremely dear to her named Grey. Without spoiling anything, we learn that this is her grandfather: the rock of the family of misfits. She has a Papa who is distant and stays at the Book Barn–the book store the family owns on the small island of Holksea; and she also has a brother, Ned, who has just returned from college to play in a band and is a eyeliner-wearing free spirit.

The summer has just started and with it a return of friends from the past reenter the silent life Gottie has lead this past year. As the last few days of term come to a close, Gottie is given a mathematical equation to solve due to her own questions about her disappearance into the past. She cannot understand the grey matter which has crept into her life, sucking her into a vortex of time past, leaving her body in two time periods without memory of the current one.

The math is beyond comprehension for this English-minded person, but the way in which it is woven into the story is well-crafted. I was never overwhelmed by the figures and I appreciated the drawings. I loved how we were able to catch a glimpse of the math Gottie works on and how it will figure into her life in the future. It was presented as a mere moment, and if I had been reading too fast I would have missed it. I found myself reading slowly and completely absorbed this book. (It made me wish that, when faced moments in my own life when grief was so overwhelming, I could just disappear as well.) Sadness has made Gottie encounter life without being a part of it, instead, she passes through the moments as a shimmer. And as the end of summer comes to a close and Gottie is faced with the one year anniversary of Grey’s passing, she has to accept the inevitable death of her grandfather and learn to embrace the forward motion of life.

In the classroom: Math and science are front and center in this book. Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s grandfather was a mathematician, so her love of math and YA collided together brilliantly! (She’s also from the UK, so I thought using ‘brilliantly’ was apropos.) Time travel and the concept of time is a unique concept and one which is still a mystery; however, Gottie challenges us to believe in the phenomena. I know to experiment with these equations would be difficult as none of them are truly present in the book, so in the classroom you could easily have your students write a “If I were to time travel I would go visit…” but this is more for the elementary classroom or a journal entry for the high school English teacher to assign. In the science classroom it would be fun to have your students create a vortex. You can do this with a tornado–oil and water in a soda bottle and swirl it up! Or you could talk about smoke rings like this physics teacher at Whitesboro High School who created them for his students:

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Roaring Brook Press | 9781626723733 | May 3, 2016)

America Grelinger

America Grelinger doesn’t mind if you call her Ms. America. It makes her head swell and she loves the title. America is a former English teacher and has a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, now retired to raise two crazy little boys who think the funniest thing on the planet is to burp and toot… which is why she reads. Because it’s cheaper than counseling. Amy and her husband live with those two crazy little boys in Derby, Kansas.