Dusk is slowly covering this dirty city once again. I’m still stretching out my neck, going around and turning the lights on that have become necessary in the last hour, while I was still firmly lodged in my all-consuming, extra-comforting, window-view armchair; with a cup of tea and two cats, who – for once – just joined the calamity instead of jumping down each other’s throats. I have learned to appreciate the quiet moments during the last year, so I’m always grateful for some guilt-free downtime.
For a second, let’s reflect on how wondrous it is that, from over more than 1.000.000 books published each year in the U.S. alone, the right stories find us. They gravitate towards us, suck us in and eat us up. I’d love to tell you I was roaming a small side-street book store when this story pulled me in, but as a matter of fact our moment happened beneath the fluorescent light of the omnipresent walk-in mall book store. Originally, I set out to buy Steffi von Wolff’s new book (which I, incidentally, also purchased), but the cover of Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s book caught my eye. I read the blurb, I decided it sounded too fantasy-ish for me, I moved on. Boyfriend happily tugged me along, I rambled on how pretty the cover was, he rambled on about how many books I already had. He picked up a copy of some book, I turned around, disappeared, and got The Square Root of Summer anyways. He rolled his eyes, kissed my cheek, and grinned. Keeper much?
Yet, here I am two days later, and I can guarantee you that – for all that it’s worth, this is definitely the fastest review I’ve ever written. Very rarely do I still get to indulge in the books I bought immediately after I brought them home; usually, we’re stuck with a promise of “I’ll read you when I’m not working or sleeping or dying or whatever”.
I managed to keep The Square Root of Summer on my desk for exactly one evening before I flopped down in aforementioned arm-chair, ready for sleepy legs and sleepy cats, and devoured the book.1
First of all, a small disclaimer: I read the German version of the book, but I’m still going to keep this review in English. I guess that’s only catering to the protagonist’s bilingual life. Therefore, language-wise the original edition might give a slightly different vibe. However, it is also worth mentioning that this is one of the best translations I’ve ever read – nothing feels off, everything feels natural. Huge shout-out to Susanne Hornfeck, let me someday be the translator you are now! So yeah, pick The Square Root of Summer up in whatever language you want, but the German edition is just way prettier.
“My heart is a kaleidoscope, and when we kiss it makes my world unravel…
Last summer, Gottie’s life fell apart. Her beloved grandfather Grey died and Jason, the boy to whom she lost her heart wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. This summer, still reeling from twin heartbreaks, Gottie is lost and alone and burying herself in equations. Until, after five years absence, Thomas comes home: former boy next door. Former best friend. Former everything. And as life turns upside down again she starts to experience strange blips in time – back to last summer, back to what she should have seen then…
During one long, hazy summer, Gottie navigates grief, world-stopping kisses and rips in the space-time continuum, as she tries to reconcile her first heartbreak with her last.”
-Blurb The Square Root Of Summer
I didn’t expect this book to be good. I bought it because it is just so pretty (I mean, come on, look at it!), but the blurb was only semi-appealing to me. It kind of feels like the blurb reduces the entire story to Boy meets Girl (again), when The Square Root of Summer is so much more than that. Most of all, it’s coming of age without the cliché, it’s self-awareness and emotional awakening, it’s everything. It’s a protagonist that emancipates herself so slowly yet clearly, it’s a story that in the most literal sense unfolds the further you get.
A word of advice: Don’t be scared off by the time travel. Time travel here is used more as a plot driving device than actually plot device. Obviously, the protagonist does wonder what on earth is happening, but if you’re expecting 90% Blade Runner and 10% Jane Eyre, you’re wrong here. Sorry. The whole time travel ordeal took me a while to figure out, as I wasn’t sure if we were dealing with actual time travel or maybe some sort of flashbacks or episodes or whatever, but in the end, it does not even matter so much at all. I guess, even though the book closes out pretty specific, there is much room for interpretation.
Gottie is – weird. She’s the protagonist, she’s 17, and sometimes she is so passive that I want to push her into a toga garden party just to see her react. Eventually, Gottie is forced to react though, and the way Reuter Hapgood wrote Gottie made her feel real, realer than probably any character I’ve read so far. I’m gonna miss Gottie now that I’m done.
We have Thomas, a baked-goods enthusiast, and the closest thing you will ever find to a manic pixie dream boy. I enjoyed the power role reversal here, it was not Gottie who was so perfect for Thomas we all had to projectile vomit, no, it was Thomas. Not without fighting his own fights, but with a certainty making very clear Thomas is and was serving literary purpose. I enjoyed the heck out of him.
There’s a whole lot of lovable side characters in this English-German family of chaos, most of all obviously Grey, that are impossible to praise each alone. If you love well written characters, The Square Root Of Summer is for you.
I’m not even going to touch on pacing and or style here, because this was hands-down one of the best written books I’ve read in a long time. Enough cheese for my red wine, not too cheesy to not be taken seriously. Just the median of beautiful and brutal, touching on subjects other YA novels so blissfully ignore (menstruation, for example).
I can’t say more than read this! over and over again. I fell in love with Gottie and Reuter Hapgood and I will probably have to update my writing goals whiteboard with both their names in due time. This book gets a straight five-out-of-five anatomically correct hearts.
And now, just leave me here to die, until my book hangover is over.
1 I’m not kidding, I even got kinda grumpy when keeper boyfriend returned from work and I had to divide my attention between book and boyfriend. That’s gotta mean something.