A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Entangled Teen in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.
“Please don’t confuse love and logic, Charlie. They aren’t even remotely related.”
OK, so: first, let me just say that I have been watching for this book for a *long* time. Ages ago, Mike Mullin–whom a lot of you will know from the Ashfall series–mentioned that one of his writing group friends had had her book picked up, and that it was excellent (I’m totally paraphrasing, here, because it was a LONG time ago). I made note of the friend’s name, and because I love Mike’s writing and trust his judgment, did exactly as he told me.
And when the book, Love and Other Unknown Variables, popped up on NetGalley, lemme tell ya, I have never pounced on anything so hard!
The peeps at Entangled Teen, the book’s publishers, told me I would love Charlie. Oh, how right they were! CHARLIE IS ADORABLE. He’s crazy smart, mildly awkward, capable when it comes to most everything, and totally confused about girls. I wanted to grab him and hug his head about 15 different times. He’s a completely realistic boy, in my limited experience, and I loved how much we got to see inside his thought processes, especially when it comes to Charlotte.
Charlie meets Charlotte in line at a Krispy Kreme, and soon discovers she’s the sister of his English teacher. That becomes just about as complicated as it sounds, but does Charlie care? No. Because Charlie is adorable. And Charlie is completely fascinated by Charlotte. I loved the way we got to understand the relationship from Charlie’s point of view–how he grew more and more interested in Charlotte, and then fell for her entirely. I wasn’t, though, as sure about the relationship from Charlotte’s side. Because the book is written from Charlie’s point of view, it’s hard to know exactly what Charlotte is thinking, unless she tells us, but I never felt sure of her feelings or motivations. It seemed like maybe she was looking for something she was afraid she might not be able to have, otherwise–an escape–and I ended up feeling unsure whether it was ever about Charlie, at all. I can’t decide whether that’s just my jaded reading of the whole thing, or not.
Regardless, Alexander’s prose is lovely, and her characters beyond charming. Charlie’s friends, Greta and James, are dynamic and distinct and downright funny. They’re the kind of best friends everyone hopes for. Charlie’s sister, Becca, has a kind of sweet, tender fragility layered over a deep, quiet strength. I loved her, even if we didn’t see much of her. Even Charlotte’s sister, Ms. Finch, was fantastically complex, and a great adult addition to the story.
If there’s anything I would have liked, it’s a little more fleshing out of Charlotte’s side of the relationship, emotionally. I felt like the ending maybe didn’t hit me as hard as I expected it to, because of that. And is it just me, or did we never get an explanation of the breakdown Charlie kept alluding to in his past? In any event, I really enjoyed Love and Other Unknown Variables. I thought the use of mathematical language in the book was extraordinarily clever, and not at all alienating for non-math-geeks. I think readers are likely to fall head-over-heels in love with Charlie, and this book.
There are many ideas in mathematics that we know are true, even if we’ll never be able to solve them. Too many. They’re the paradoxes that make math so beautiful. Charlotte feels like that. Like a problem I’ll never really figure out, but that I know is just right for me.
4 stars. Definitely a language issue, here. I wanted to read this badly enough that I finished it anyway, despite my usual rule. Readers be warned.