The Square Root of Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.”

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter HapgoodGottie’s grandfather, Grey, died nearly a year ago but the grief is still fresh enough to choke her. She’s spent the past year trying to hide, trying to forget, trying to disappear.

Her father, in his usual absent-minded way, is breezing past the gaping hole in their family without really seeing the damage. Her brother is home from school for the summer and keen to resurrect Grey’s eccentric traditions and remember him. All of which makes Gottie’s guilt and sadness hurt even more.

It’s been hard enough focusing on the day-to-day and the things she’s lost. It gets worse when seemingly impossible wormholes start springing up around Gottie’s small seaside town pulling her to times and memories she’d rather forget. Like the day of Grey’s funeral when her first love, Jason, wouldn’t even hold her hand. Or the day her best friend Thomas moved away leaving Gottie with a scar on her hand and no memory of their parting.

When Jason and Thomas reappear in Gottie’s life, she realizes that some things can’t be forgotten and some memories–even the painful ones–are worth revisiting. The wormholes and the lost time are building to something. Gottie has the rest of the summer to decide if she wants to run toward whatever comes next or keep running away in The Square Root of Summer (2016) by Harriet Reuter Hapgood.

The Square Root of Summer is Reuter Hapgood’s debut novel.

Gottie is an incredibly smart heroine with an affinity for math and science–especially physics. Once she realizes that she is losing time, she begins to work out the science of such an impossibility and try to make sense of it with mathematical equations and the laws of physics.

Reuter Hapgood seamlessly integrates complex science and math concepts into the story as Gottie comes closer to the impossible truth behind the events of her summer. These concepts combined with Gottie’s singular voice make for a dense beginning. As the story unfolds and readers get to know Gottie they are rewarded with a satisfyingly intricate novel that begs to be read closely and repeatedly. The addition of unique text designs, illustrations of certain concepts, and notes from Gottie’s research make for an even more unique reading experience.

While time travel is a pivotal aspect of this story, The Square Root of Summer is a novel about family at its core. Gottie’s family is a adrift in the wake of Grey’s death–lost without their boisterous and unlikely anchor. It is only in revisiting memories of him and his death that Gottie begins to realize that sometimes moving forward is the best way to grieve someone.

The Square Root of Summer is populated with distinctive personalities ranging from Gottie and her family to her eccentric physics professor. While the blackholes lend a sense of urgency to the story, this is a character driven novel with fascinating dynamics–particularly between Gottie and her long-absent friend Thomas.

The Square Root of Summer delivers the best aspects of any time travel story combined with the memorable characters and pathos so often found in great contemporary novels. This genre-defying novel is clever and unique–a breath of fresh air on a warm summer day. Gottie and her story are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Ghosts of Heaven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It was all the same thing; the same sign, and now she knew what it meant.”

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickIn a time before modern history, a girl tries to use a charred stick and ochre to make magic with disastrous results. Staring at the spiral shapes found everywhere in nature, she begins to grasp the enormity–the power–that can be found in written marks.

Centuries later, Anna hopes to care for her brother after her mother’s death only to have the entire town turn against her. As she fights rumors and increasingly vocal accusations that she is a witch, Anna too begins to see hidden meaning in the spiral found in their traditional spiral dance that begins to appear everywhere.

In the twentieth century an American poet watches the ocean from within the walls of an inhospitable asylum. He can see the shapes there too. Spirals. Helixes. Shapes that have become emblematic of the horrors he can scarcely fathom.

Keir Bowman knows, in the distant future, that he will become an astronaut on a desperate mission to colonize a new planet. He knows he will keep looking forward. What Bowman can’t guess is that in hurtling himself through space, he will also move toward his destiny and an understanding of these spirals that march through history in The Ghosts of Heaven (2015) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a standalone novel in the same style as Sedgwick’s Printz Award winner Midwinterblood.

After an introduction from the author, The Ghosts of Heaven includes four short stories titled “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny.” As the introduction explains, these stories can be read in any order. (I read them in the order given in the book which is also the order listed above.)

The Ghosts of Heaven is an incredibly smart and ambitious novel. The stories here span a variety of genres and forms as they work together to convey a larger meaning.

“Whispers in the Dark” is told in sparse verse as a girl begins to make sense of written words and forms.

“The Witch in the Water” returns to more traditional prose as the story watches the hysteria and fear that fed the fires of witch accusations and  trials in the seventeenth century. This segment also demonstrates how much of the novel deals with unequal power dynamics–in this case as Anna tries to work around much unwanted attention.

“The Easiest Room in Hell” brings readers to an asylum on Long Island where supposedly revolutionary treatments highlight the arcane and unfeeling nature of much mental health care in the early twentieth century. This story also underscores the fine line that can exist between creativity and madness.

Finally in “The Song of Destiny” Sedgwick brings the golden ratio (and the Fibonacci sequence) to the forefront in this solitary and meditative story as all of the vignettes come together in a conclusion with surprising revelations about the spirals and their ultimate meaning.

Sedgwick weaves subtle references between each quarter to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as readers–along with the characters–move toward a larger understanding over the course of the entire novel.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a startling, clever and life-affirming novel that pushes the written word to its limit as Sedgwick expertly demonstrates the many ways in which a story can be told.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Folly by Marthe Jocelyn, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, In the Shadow of Blackbirds of Cat Winters

You can also read my interview with Marcus Sedgwick about the book.

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) (a CLW review)

Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina ChenI had the chance to talk to Justina Chen briefly before she gave a reading from Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) (2006). She was very cool, grounded and an absolute pleasure to talk to. So, it should be no surprise that her narrator, Patty Ho, is equally enjoyable in every way in Headley’s first novel written for young adults.

Half-Taiwanese and half-white, Patty feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. This fact is confirmed when, instead of going to the last school dance of the year, Patty’s mother drags her to a fortune teller who discerns Patty’s future from her belly button. Things get worse from there when Patty realizes that sometimes dream guys are anything but and finds herself enrolled in Stanford math camp for the summer.

This novel is a classic coming-of-age story. As the plot progresses, Patty learns that sometimes you have to find people like you in order to appreciate the value of being really unique. Now, that might sound a bit pat and cliche–but I can assure you this book is anything but.

Headley writes with a style unlike any authors I’ve read recently. The narration is snappy and spunky–as is fitting for a teenage girl as vibrant as Patty. I also like that Headley doesn’t take the easy way a lot of the time. The story doesn’t follow any typical girl-meets-boy formula. In fact, Headley has quite a few twists thrown in along the way.

It’s also really interesting to read about Patty and her mother. The subject doesn’t often come up in teen literature, where often the characters are immigrants if they are not white. Headley’s dialog between Patty and her mother seems realistic (not being Taiwanese at all I can’t really say). Her incorporation of slang and certain speech mannerisms bring to mind Amy Tan’s writing in The Hundred Secret Senses (another book about a half-asian, half-white character, incidentally). Honestly though, everything in the book is interesting. Even math camp, which some readers will view as warily as Patty does in the beginning, turns out to be a cool environment to read about (with minimal time spent on math in the narrative).

In a lot of reviews you’ll see me complaining that the characters come off as flat. Happily, I can say that is not the case here. Patty and her myriad friends (and enemies too) jump off the page. Furthermore, Headley artfully negotiates Patty’s changing sense of self throughout the novel.

It’s weird to be saying this about a novel that isn’t a thriller, but it was really a page turner. I couldn’t put it down. Headley has a lot to say here about identity and family and self-confidence. All of which she manages like a pro.

The term “new classic” is bandied about a lot for modern books and movies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Nothing But the Truth is going to get that label if it doesn’t have it already.

Possible Pairings: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood