The Square Root of Summer

By Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Pan Macmillan)

‘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.’

Gottie H. Oppenheimer, a 17-year-old physics prodigy, navigates grief, love and disruptions in the space-time continuum in one very eventful summer.  Gottie feels like her world is falling apart. Her beloved grandfather Grey died and Jason – the boy to whom she lost her virginity and heart – is acting all cool and distant. Then the former boy-next-door, and her former best friend, Thomas, arrives for the summer. Suddenly Gottie is confronted with what happened the day he left five years ago and her growing attraction for him now.

To make matters more complicated, she starts slipping into ‘wormholes’ – grey fuzzy time warps where she time travels back to the past. And emerges not knowing how much time has passed and what she’s been doing in the present time while she’s slipped down the ‘wormhole’. (This is never actually explained, leaving you wondering what everyone around her thought of her sitting in dazed silence while her mind slipped into a wormhole).

She keeps going back to last summer, when Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, to the day Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory. Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are on a collision course.  Gottie starts to believe she has to work out something she calls The Weltschmerzian Exception – an explanation for what is happening to her and how her present is getting sucked into her past.

The novel combines time travel, quantum physics, grief and death and teen romance in a very cool, trendy package.  The book was hotly contested in an auction for publishing rights and is rumoured to be in a movie deal. It’s touted as “the Time-travellers Wife for teens.” Its beautifully written and the supporting characters are quirky and well created. The problem comes in with the wormholes.  At some stages it felt like this whole book and its plot slipped into a wormhole and I was left wondering what happened?  While a little uncertainty and suspense is great, this felt like huge gaps of understanding that left me alienated from the characters. I wanted to tell Gottie to ask her brother – whom she seemed close to – did you see what happened to me?  At times it felt like she wasn’t really alive – everyone else was  following their own plot and story line.  Surely someone – her father, her friend, her brother – should have sat her down and said: “you’re acting pretty weird, what’s wrong?” But maybe that’s the parent in me.  I’ll leave you with the thoughts of a teen reviewer on Goodreads: (and if you want to review this – send me a note and I’ll post the book to you!)

“This book made me so, so confused. Which is making writing this review very difficult. Because this book was well written but so confusing! I can’t even tell if I liked it or not. It was just… so maths-y. Just physics and wormholes and equations and time jumps… And coming from someone who despised maths with a passion in school, it’s hard to enjoy a book that had that much maths in it.”

 

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