Hi guys, today I’m excited to be part of the Canadian Blog Tour for The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood. This is a really unusual young adult novel, chock full of science and heartbreak, but with beautiful and quirky writing. Read on for a short Q&A with Harriet (about Dawson’s Creek, because Harriet did her Ph.D on it!), and then my review!
Who is your favorite Dawson’s Creek character and why?
Harriet Reuter Hapgood: Jen Lindley. Without question. I loved her from the get-go. She had such an awful time of it – sexualized way too young, banished by her parents to live with a grandmother who didn’t get her, at first, her grandfather dies, then her only friends are, like, Dawson Leery?! And he tries to SECRETLY FILM THEIR FIRST KISS. And Joey is so resentful and mean to her, and the only person who’s nice is Abby, who’s awful and dies. Hers is just a sad story, and then the writers completely sidelined her once the show became the Joey And Pacey Love Story. Many of her emotional beats in later seasons, like her parents’ divorce or her best friend Jack’s depression, are told in Joey voiceover or montage. I just really identify with a character who describes herself as “I come from a small town, I live with my grandma, and I like to knit”. She’s soulful and broken and gradually comes into her own and gains agency and happiness, and I am still so mad they killed her! [Editor’s note: Yeah, I feel you, Harriet. Jen deserved better! 😭]
The Square Root of Summer
Author: Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr
Publication date: May 3rd 2016
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books (thank you!)
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 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 wouldn'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 still 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.
With time travel, quantum physics, and sweeping romance, The Square Root of Summer is an exponentially enthralling story about love, loss, and trying to figure it all out, from stunning debut YA voice, Harriet Reuter Hapgood.
Review: The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
If you know me, you know that I love science in my young adult novels – in any of my fiction really. Even though I’m definitely not a scientist myself, I love theories and ideas that come from science. So when I say that The Square Root of Summer is a weird, and extremely science-y book, I’m not kidding about the science. Or the weird.
The Square Root of Summer centers on 17 year old Gottie Oppenheimer, a physics prodigy who lives in a little seaside town in Norfolk, England. Gottie is dealing with a lot right now, including but not limited to a father who is a bit absentee, her brother Ned who shows up after a year away at university with his best friend Jason (aka Gottie’s secret ex-boyfriend), and oh yeah, a grandfather who meant everything to her who died almost a year ago.
As if that weren’t enough, Gottie has stopped sleeping and has started noticing things blipping out of her existence. First it’s her underwear up in a tree without her knowing how it got there. Then she sees Jason alone, and suddenly, she’s done three hours worth of packing. Time is slipping away from her, and she’s not sure why.
In the midst of figuring all of this out, she finds out that her childhood best friend Thomas will be moving in with her and her family for the summer. Gottie hasn’t seen Thomas in five years, and they haven’t spoken since they had a…moment at that time.
I’m describing a ton of plot here, but honestly…this isn’t really a plot-driven novel. I suppose it’s character-driven but honestly, everyone in this book is so strange that it doesn’t feel that way, either. The characters sort of speak in riddles, loosely connecting ideas with one another so that you always feel off-balance. Fragments of moments intersect with diagrams of space-time. It’s both distancing and compelling.
And that’s the thing…that distance kept me from really liking the characters. It’s hard when you’re never entirely sure if what Gottie is seeing is real, a product of her imagination, a product of lack of sleep… ? I know this was done purposely to keep the reader just as off-balance as Gottie was, but for me, it made it hard for me to follow the character’s emotional journey. There’s nothing comfortable about what Gottie is experiencing, but then again, I don’t think the author wants you to feel comfortable.
But despite the weirdness of this book, at it’s heart, it’s a book that deals with grief, anger, denial, sadness, and heartbreak. Those emotions are anchored in every one of Gottie’s weird encounters. It’s a strange mix of physics, psychology, and emotion that makes this book completely unique. Reuter Hapgood’s writing balances these ideas in a way that’s always off-kilter, but still manages to make the emotional parts feel authentic.
For me, what saved this novel from being just too darn weird was the relationship between Gottie and Thomas. It’s sweet, hilarious, and they obviously have a rapport that goes beyond just friendship. Without a doubt, this part of the book anchored me and kept me going even through all of the wacky stuff that was happening in Gottie’s head. And it makes sense, because I think that’s what keeps Gottie going, too.
I’m not sure what else I can say about this book without giving away some serious spoilers, but it’s definitely a read that takes some investment and a suspension of disbelief. If, however, you’re in the mood for a book that challenges your cerebral side, give this one a try. It’s unique and emotionally satisfying, with a very, very cool ending.
Stand Back, We’re Doing Science: I already mentioned this, but this is SERIOUS science YA, full of wormholes and space-time continuum stuff that felt way over my head. But I still liked it, even if I didn’t understand it all, and the diagrams helped a ton!
Gorgeous Writing: This was real form follows function writing, where I feel like the weirdness of the writing made the story even more weird…and yet there were moments when Reuter Hapgood described grief or heartbreak so perfectly that you can’t help but like her writing.
Complex Relationships: I can’t call any of the secondary characters really kick-arse, but the relationships between everyone, especially Gottie’s family and her best friend, felt pretty authentic.
Book Theme Song:
I knew when I read this book that a song from the new Radiohead album would have to be it’s theme song. Daydreaming not only has lyrics that remind me of Gottie and her sleeping patterns, but it also kind of sounds like it’s going backwards. There’s a reason: if you play it backwards, it sounds like the same song, sorta! It’s kinda like a time loop, which obviously totally works for this book.
They never learn
Beyond the point
Of no return
And it’s too late
The damage is done
This goes beyond me
The white room
Where the sun goes
The Final Word:
The Square Root of Summer is a unique take on the sci-fi YA, twisting the ideas of grief and renewal into space-time paradoxes. More of a contemporary with sci-fi elements, if you’re a fan of magical realism, this one might be for you. An ambitious debut that delivers a wallop of a conclusion.
The Square Root of Summer is out in bookstores now! Will you be reading it? Do you like science YA or magical realism? Let me know in the comments!