Okay, time for that "occasional" part of this blog: the arithmetic. Actually, that's algebra, as studied and loved by eighth-grader Tess in this upper-MG title. But Tess goes one step further than love and study--she sees the world through math-colored glasses. She says: "We're spending a lot of time studying inequalities in algebra now, which makes sense, since who you're greater than (>) and who you're less than (<) is kind of the point of eighth grade." But this year Tess is discovering, as all higher math students eventually do, that a school subject everyone always assumed was known for its definitive answers--"Hey, either it's right or it's wrong"--is known by no such thing. Just like life, apparently, whether it's trying to figure out what to do about the coolest guy in school stealing an exam and making copies, or what to do when your mom thinks her co-worker (the same guy from whom you've taken a sculpting class) may have murdered his wife but she won't go to the police. Shocked by the death and her mother's suspicions, Tess is totally believable when she goes to her room and tries to graph the death on the x/y axes. But when her parents' voices bring her back to reality, she tears the paper to shreds and plots a nice, neat graph about riding her bike to her friend's house at 5 mph for 3 1/2 miles for her "real-life graph" homework, because "everyone knows that's the kind of thing you're supposed to be graphing in eighth grade."
There's a lot to love about this novel. Tess and her schoolmates ring true. The book is short and an easy read, smart choices to compensate for the automatic math phobia it must surmount. Tess's friendly first-person voice makes the math accessible. There's plenty else besides math going on. The teachers portrayed in the book are positive figures with real passion for their subjects, though some plain truth also comes out: Tess's history teacher is very close to math-illiterate. She suffers through his messed-up comments (such as 192, 77, 4, and 100 are prime numbers) and corrects them when she must, yet he's the teacher to whom Tess confides her mom's suspicions about murder and from whom she receives real help. The chapters have titles such as "The Quadratic Equation," "The Number Line," "Imaginary Numbers" and more. AND I really got a thrill out of this one: When her teacher gives Tess a glimpse of stuff that's "way out there" in higher math, her example is non-Euclidean geometry--geometry on a non-flat surface, such as a sphere, meaning, among other things, parallel lines DO cross. Because this was exactly the example I had thought of. When two math minds (even if mine's a tad rusty) think alike, it's a fun thing. :) There's a second book in the Do the Math series, called The Writing on the Wall, which I'll definitely be picking up.