The Calculus of Change – Jessie Hilb – Clarion Books – Published 27 February 2018
Aden isn’t looking for love in her senior year. She’s much more focused on things like getting a solo gig at Ike’s and keeping her brother from illegal herbal recreation. But when Tate walks into Calculus class wearing a yarmulke and a grin, Aden’s heart is gone in an instant.
The two are swept up in a tantalizingly warm friendship, complete with long drives with epic soundtracks and deep talks about life, love, and spirituality. With Tate, Aden feels closer to her mom—and her mom’s faith—than she has since her mother died years ago. Everyone else—even Aden’s brother and her best friend—can see their connection, but does Tate?
Navigating uncertain romance and the crises of those she loves, Aden must decide how she chooses to see herself and how to honor her mom’s memory.
I expected Calculus of Change to be light-hearted contemporary, where math meets romance and trivial high school problems create light drama and much fun. Instead, Calculus of Change is a deep novel and touches on numerous heavy issues, from sexual assault to body image, relationship problems and self perception. It is thought provoking and written in an original style.
When Aden falls she falls. Head over heels, totally discombobulated falls in love. That’s what happened when Tate walked into their calculus classroom wearing a yarmulke and a smile that seemed only for her. But Tate has a girlfriend, and as Aden and Tate become friends and spend increasing amounts of time together, Aden finds it harder to hide her true feelings. But her unrequited love isn’t the only thing not going to plan, like her father’s endless grief and anger, her brother’s impending destruction, and her best friend’s own dangerous relationships. As Aden struggles to reconcile her feelings with her perceived self worth, she must decide how she will view herself, her family, her friendships, and her memory of her mother.
Aden’s feelings for Tate come across a little like insta-love. Her attraction to him and her developing feelings towards him as she gets to know him are fast, deep, and all consuming. But as the reader gets to know Aden a little more, it is easier to view all this through her personality and her lack of confidence. In fact, it’s kind of comforting to read about a character who falls apart in the face of flirting and attraction and who isn’t someone who is amazing, smooth, and all-together (because, I know I’m not). Aden’s thoughts about her weight form a large part of this book. How she thinks about herself, how she views other girls, even if she believes she is loveable or likeable is all intertwined with thoughts about her body shape, her thoughts about beauty and size.
The chapters follow a sequential timeline, but each chapter has a different focus, titled accordingly. So a chapter titled Tate will be about a meeting with Tate. A chapter called Dad will be about a night when her father gets out-of-control angry. It all flows time wise, but it is focused on specific events rather than daily events and comings and goings. There are also a few chapters that highlight an event from the past, like Aden’s eighth grade musical audition, to fill in more of the backstory.
When I first started reading this book I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. Was it a fun, lighthearted contemporary about love, maths, and life? By the middle of the book I was dissatisfied, angry, and confused. How could so many issues like drug use and inappropriate relationships be ignored? But the end of the book completed redeemed the story.
There are so many issues raised in this book. Teen pregnancy, body image, abusive relationships, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, grief, drug use, even sexual assault. But any one of which that might have been the focus of an entire book simply becomes just another layer to this story. And for that, some of these issues don’t get much focus. They are perhaps brushed aside a little. But maybe that’s more true to life. When things go bad and start spiraling they can become uncontrollable and crash and burn. But Aden doesn’t crash or burn. She is a such a strong character. And maybe not in the way one might first think. She has huge body doubts, her self confidence is low, she is focused entirely on her feelings for Tate. But she stands up for herself. She knows what is right. She is there for her friends and family, and at the end she knows that her worth is not wrapped up in how other people view her, but rather in how she views herself. Could a guy like her? He’d be crazy not to. So while some of the issues raised may be just one more in a pile, so while Aden couldn’t stop her friend from irrevocably changing her life, or stop her brother from self destructing, she was there for them throughout the fallout. Strong and never wavering. And it is Aden herself who redeems this story, who takes control of her life and her thoughts and makes a choice about who she is and how she views herself. And it is that journey that makes Calculus of Change worth reading.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Self-esteem, body image, friendship, unrequited love, feelings, emotions, grief, death, parents, Judaism, anger, father-daughter relationships, teen pregnancy, student-teacher relationships, sexual assault, family, drug use.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: References to sexual relationships, some descriptions of a sexual assault scene. Drug use. Alcohol use and drink driving. Infrequent coarse language, f*** (7), sh** (9), sl**(5), ass**** (1), bit** (6).
Published: 27 February 2018 by Clarion Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 336 pages.