The Square Root of Summer is a poignant and moving novel, written by Harriet Reuter Hapgood.
Gottie is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who couldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide – and someone’s heart is about to be broken.
From the moment I picked up this gorgeous book, I knew it would be one that would swallow me whole, taking me on a journey that transported me through time and left me awestruck. If it wasn’t the beautiful cover that alluded to the warm summery days and elusiveness of the universe through the eyes of a teenage girl that’s been touched by too much tragedy that drew me into The Square Root of Summer, the synopsis certainly did. I’ve always found these coming-of-age novels so enticing and perhaps what I like most about them is that I can always see a piece of myself in the characters, but this poignant and heart-stopping piece of prose is one that encapsulates such a vibrance and intelligence in its pages that makes it undeniably an unforgettable read. Not only do the nostalgic whisperings that form the dominant undertone of this novel allow me to gain an insight into Gottie’s own childhood, but they transported me into my own heady tween days where summer vacations lasted years and anything seemed possible.
Possibly the most fascinating aspect of this book was the impact of maths and science on the plot. While it could have easily been too hard for the majority of readers to understand or explained too simplistically and in a way that was condescending, The Square Root of Summer did neither of those. The mathematical equations and scientific theories sat in the middle of the two, providing me with enough basic knowledge so that I could understand what Gottie was formulating, but with enough complexity that allowed her passion for these areas to shine through and let her take me on a journey that didn’t seemed forced wasn’t just a Wikipedia cut-and-paste on various physics equations. The fascination Gottie had for these areas was quite infectious, leaving me wanting to pick up a copy of A Brief History of Time and take up Physics, even though I scored below average for maths and science on the last standardised test I did. I think it was the beautiful and vivid descriptions of how Gottie applied these theories to her own experiences and her comfort of holding onto something so solid in a time where everything seemed to be falling apart was what was most magical about it. The way she yearned for answers when the world seemed uncertain and insane really touched me.
Gottie will definitely strike a chord with everyone who has ever been a teenager, had their heart broken or dealt with a tragedy. There’s something so universal about her that allows readers to find a piece of themselves within the character, but at the same time, Gottie isn’t just a carbon copy of all the other teenage girls in the written worlds. While she might have things in common with readers, she is by no means common. We are first introduced to Gottie – a girl who’s silently breaking inside – but through the course of the novel, her true personality is revealed. What I loved most about getting to spend time with her was that zeal and passion became clearer and more prominent as time went on and she began to heal and rediscover what the sun looked like when it peaked through the clouds after a stormy morning. The courage to speak up for what she believed in was also gradually gained throughout the time I knew her, and it was really heartwarming to see such a beautiful and inspiring transformation in her.
However, what I loved most about this novel and what made it unique was also its downfall. I mentioned earlier that I loved the maths and science involved, but that doesn’t mean that the wormhole aspect wasn’t confusing. I understood the equations and liked how Gottie explained them to the reader, but because even she didn’t really understand how the wormholes worked, it made it impossible for the reader to gain some sort of clarity. For a lot of the time, it felt like we were blindfolded and trying to find our way around a darkened house. There were some times when we could follow the walls and be able to work out where we were based on our surroundings, but there were other times where a door would seem to appear out of nowhere and we’d stub our toes trying to move past it. But I really think that it would be difficult to write about wormholes and time travel, because not many scientists even have a solid idea of how it works. Sure, there are theories, but I feel that until we understand time travel like we do car travel, it will be hard to write about in a way that everyone understands. Because of that, I felt that the writing was sometimes a little disjointed and hard to follow.
While I was able to sympathise with Gottie and forge a connection with her based on how she’s lost a grandfather and I’ve also dealt with similar tragedies in my life, I feel that it would have been easier to relate to her on a more personal level if we actually knew her grandpa. Of course, everyone can feel sorry for another person when we hear of a death in their family of a relative we never knew, but I would have loved to have known her grandfather through more flashbacks or backstory and then I would have felt more personally affected by it. Otherwise it was just like hearing that your neighbour’s uncle died. It sucks and you feel sorry for your neighbour, but do you really feel anything beyond that? I actually wanted that sharp feeling in your chest that accompanies devastating emotions. I wanted to cry over the loss of her grandfather. I wanted to share Gottie’s grief. Instead, he was just a name. Although this novel might be one that tells the tale of Gottie coming to terms with her loss and learning to live fully again, despite the tragedies that have unfolded, I definitely feel that considerably more backstory would be needed to impact the reader in the dramatic, heart-wrenching way it could have.
Ultimately, The Square Root of Summer puts a twist on the ordinary coming-of-age story and transports readers through time to a world brimming with endless possibilities and answers to questions that haven’t even been thought of yet. Definitely recommended for fans of contemporaries with a side of science. I’d give The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood a score of 7.5 out of 10. Now let’s discuss this book! Are you considering picking it up, or maybe you’ve read it already? Are you a fan of contemporaries? Did you like the use of science in this one? Were the time jumps easy to follow for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!