“One chapter,” I said to myself. “Okay, two.” In this way, I read Stacy McAnulty’s middle grade novel in two sittings!
What I enjoyed:
References to pi and Fibonacci, plus a main character who calculates quicker than a calculator makes for a brain-tickling theme. Better than that, math is used to save shelter dogs, and the book reveals how math is all around us. Better than even THAT is the use our main character makes of math. Rather than being merely the author’s decoration, math is the MC’s coping mechanism for anxiety. Sometimes math gets in her way, but mostly Lucy Callahan uses her gift as a way to grasp this ungraspable world. Naturally, her inner journey hinges on going where no formula has gone before.
Though Lucy starts out with only online math friends, her chances of making an IRL (in-real-life) friend increase exponentially when she’s forced to attend a public middle school. Though it’s rocky for a long time, and not without anger and tears, caring about a couple of people and having them care about you turns out to be worth it. This book focuses on Lucy’s new relationships, and I appreciate that one is inter-racial and the other inter-class-al, with both feeling natural.
The reader sees at once that Lucy’s gift is also her curse. A lightning strike left her a math savant, but also a “freak.” She hides her talent at school, but we can’t be who we aren’t for long. Life drags her into facing one fear after another — her phobia of germs, her wish to stay with her online math peers rather than plain kids, and her aversion to smelly, lick-y dogs.
- The Writing
First person works well here to bring the reader into Lucy’s mind, which is an interesting place! We experience her OCD first-hand and understand the psychological costs to not completing her routines. The plot moves along well, keeping the character arc and action arc connected, with action pushing Lucy’s emotional journey forward. The mean girls make their appearances, but they don’t dominate the scenes. The adults facilitate, but they don’t take over. The friends have their mini-arcs, growing and changing, too, underscoring the book’s hopeful tone.
Consider reading this one yourself and then handing it off immediately to the nearest 10-14-year-old!