Review: The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Initial reaction: That was lovely, more than I thought it would turn out to be. There’s a huge curve to get into this book, however, and I had issues with how the narrative chose to pace itself. But I ended up enjoying the read.

Full review:

“The Square Root of Summer” is definitely a book that spoke to my science/math-loving/geekish contemporary heart, at the very least in the idea behind the novel.

Gottie is a young woman who has a lot of things happening in her life at once: dealing with the death of her grandfather, the changes in her relationship with her “secret” boyfriend, the changes in her relationship with her brother, and the return of a childhood friend who just so happens to be moving into the room that once belonged to her grandfather. At the same time, she realizes that things are becoming weird in her realm in other areas – like the fact that she sees wormholes and can travel to separate spaces of time/alternate realities. I honestly think it was a really cool idea to blend a coming of age, grief, and romantic story with aspects of speculative fiction/physics/science. I haven’t quite seen a story like “The Square Root of Summer” in the way that it was presented for theme. It definitely excited me with the notes of time-travel and scientific theory to boot. You could also say that the time jumps and alternate parallels that Gottie experiences are representations of her lines of thinking, emotional distance, and grief over the many changes that she goes through in the course of the book, ultimately culminating with how she comes to terms with it all.

However, I wasn’t completely sold on how this novel chose to execute the story. While the narrative has beautiful turns of writing and showcases excellent character detail, the actual execution of the novel isn’t paced well for what it chooses to show – a slow burn that never quite matches up to its ambitious aim. It took me a much longer time to get through this book than I felt I should’ve had. The issue for me wasn’t just the science portions of the story. You can make science and physics concepts fun and easy to understand in a narrative, and it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the aim for function as it was that I didn’t understand the means, if that makes sense. (i.e. For the longest time I wondered exactly what these loopholes were and why they were there, but the story took its fair time working up to that point, never fully giving anything but vague musings of Gottie’s experiences.) While Gottie kept getting lost in her musings as to why she was going through what she went through, there were turns of the narrative that felt weighed down by the dissemination of these factors in addition to the jumping timelines. I have no doubt that’s why this narrative may end up losing many a reader despite the appeal of the story.

The thing that I took away from the story the most was Gottie’s grieving process, which I thought was beautifully done through the narrative. Whether it was dealing the loss of her grandfather and other people in her life, the personal relationships that were made and broken in spells by her actions or inactions, everything Gottie did was vivid to me. Gottie was a dimensional character that I could identify with – if not for her decisions, most certainly with her grief and coming to terms. The characters were complicated and complex in their interactions through the novel. It helped that the audiobook had a wonderful narrator to boot (I ended up switching from the physical narrative to audio – you may lose the cute graphics the print version offers, but the performance Katy Sobey gives is wonderful).

I wish that the narrative had been smoother for translation, because it’s a beautiful story – just bogged down more than it really should’ve been. A good read, but cumbersome in its execution.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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