Rated Reads

The Square Root of Summer

by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Rated: High

Gottie’s summer is starting out very strangely. First, the next-door neighbor who was her best friend, her partner in crime, until they were 12 and he moved away from their small English town to Canada, is coming back — and staying at her house for the summer. Next, and even weirder, is that she is experiencing some kind of “time warps” or “wormholes” or “screen wipes.” She’ll be in the middle of something and somehow go back in time, to the previous summer. To the time when she had a secret (sexual) relationship with Jason, the older boy who’s friends with her brother. To the time when her beloved grandfather, who helped raise her, died.

Gottie can’t figure out what’s causing these jumps, though she has theories. Her physics teacher has given her an assignment for the summer to help her toward working on college applications, and she scribbles down versions of her “Oppenheimer principle.” She is dealing with her old feelings for Jason, who didn’t handle the end of their relationship well but is stirring those feelings around now that he’s home for the summer from college, and mostly welcoming the return of Thomas, who five years later is not just a long-lost best friend but potentially her new love. But the past year she has largely been shut down, her feelings and self locked away from grief over her grandfather’s passing, and these trips to the previous year are rattling her and making her miss chunks of time in the present. She thought she hadn’t heard anything from Thomas since he left, but he says he sent an email — in response to hers, which she doesn’t remember sending. And that’s just one strange occurrence she can’t reconcile. As the summer hurtles by, Gottie’s past and present and even future blend together, hopefully in a way that will help her to heal — but maybe re-break her heart in the process.

I had a bit of a slow start to this book, perhaps just because my life was crazy, but in some ways because I just thought the “time warps” were a failed attempt at being clever in doing flashbacks differently. Turns out the story and its shape were more complex than that, and I was largely satisfied with how the author wove it together. The themes of love and grief struck home, and I was more moved than I expected to be.

Rated: High. There are a good 20 or more uses of strong language as well as some more moderate terms, including some in German, and plenty of alcohol use by older teenagers (18- and 19-year-olds, pretty much). Sexual content isn’t explicit, but the main character did have sex multiple times the previous summer with her brother’s friend in a secret relationship, and there is some kissing and a scene where a little more happens. The main character talks about learning about sex when she was younger and her grandfather telling her to be on birth control, practice safe sex, etc.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Square Root of Summer
  • by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: