Books: The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Margo "Grots" Oppenheimer has had a rough year. The previous Fall, her grandfather passed away suddenly, her secret boyfriend dumped her, her brother moved away to university, and her father, already a quiet man, became even more withdrawn. So, Margo did her best to push through, and follow all the steps laid out in a pamphlet from the hospital on what to do after someone dies. Cleaning out of possessions, organizing the funeral details, etc.
Somehow, though, she still finds herself losing hours, and conversations. Margo is a smart girl, off the charts smart, so when she begins to notice experiencing "wormholes," "screen wipes," and "reboots," in her daily life she takes her math and science and attempts to solve for x, so to speak. Using her grandfather's diaries, and her own scientific notation, Margo spends the summer skipping through timelines and realities in some pretty charming, if sometimes confusing, examples of magical realism. Thrown into the mix this summer is the reappearance of her childhood best friend, Thomas, with whom she rebuilds a somewhat complicated relationship.

As someone who recently lost a loved one, I could feel Margo's grief, and understand it well. Part of what makes her, as a character, relatable, and likeable, even when you can see her alienating herself from her life, is the knowledge that losing her grandfather has clearly broken something integral to her person. In terms of relating grief, this book is spot on. Other aspects of Margo's life, like her dealing with her breakup with her first love (who also happens to be her brother's best friend and band mate,) her unraveling friendship with her girlfriend, Sofia, and her encouraging Physics teacher are also pretty relatable to anyone who's ever had her heart broken.

Harriet Reuter Hapgood does a wonderful job of creating a complex, smart, and quirky main character, as well as a strong supporting cast. Margo is complicated, and messy, but still whip smart, even when she's coming apart at the seams. Little details like Margo, Ned (her brother), and her father's German speaking throughout the story add depth to the family without feeling forced. The specter of her deceased mother haunts her just enough to be understandable without being overkill, and her path back to a relationship with Thomas is endearing without being sappy. My challenge with this novel was that sometimes the timelines, and jumping around, and math science deal was a bit confusing to me. I couldn't tell what was actually real and what was maybe a grief induced fugue state? Even by the end of the novel, which felt resolved well enough, I wasn't 100% sure exactly what had happened. I'm ok with that though, because the overall enjoyment of the story made this worth the read.


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