Hi all! Today I’m sharing a contemporary YA romance from Shannon Lee Alexander. LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES left me a teary, ugly-cried-out mess and I relished every second of it.
About the book:
Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.
The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.
By the time he learns she’s ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).
First, allow me to remind everyone that I AM A SCIENTIST. It’s my day job, and part of my psyche. I’m a fixer and a delver. I delve in order to fix. But, enough about me. Let’s find out about Charlie. Here’s what he thinks of himself:
Geeks are popular these days. At least, popular culture says geeks are popular. If nerds are hip, then it shouldn’t be hard for me to meet a girl.
Results from my personal experimentation in this realm would suggest pop culture is stupid. Or it could be that my methodology is flawed. When an experiment’s results are unexpected, the scientist must go back and look at the methods to determine the point at which an error occurred. I’m pretty sure I’m the error in each failed attempt at getting a girl’s attention. Scientifically, I should have removed myself from the equation, but instead, I kept changing the girl.
My inner (and outer) geek had palpitations. Charlie is such a self-deprecating, snarky, witty narrator. I couldn’t help getting sucked into his world. Especially when he encounters Charlotte. He’s drawn to her infinity-shaped tattoo and even moves her hair to read the word inscribed within the loop: hope. Yes, socially-awkward Charlie accosts a stranger in Krispy Kreme to rebut the logic of her tattoo.
“I wanted to apologize.”
“Oh,” she says. Her muscles relax. “Thanks.”
She smells amazing. At least I think it’s her and not the warm donut in her hand. Either way, I have to force myself to focus on what I was about to say.
“So I’m sorry.” Now, walk away. Go, Hanson. “But I’m afraid you’re mistaken about infinity. Infinity is quantifiable. Hope is immeasurable.”
Her expression shifts, like Tony Stark slipping into his Iron Man mask. She shakes her arm free from my slack grip. “So if it can’t be measured, I shouldn’t count on it? That’s bleak, man. Very bleak.”
She turns and pushes through the door.
Quite the auspicious meet-cute. Charlie does manage to salvage his lackluster first impression when he returns home from school to find Charlotte is his sister Becca’s new friend. And, he doesn’t want to mess that up because anxiety-riddled Becca has had bad luck with friends…
In fifteen years she’s had three. One moved away when she was eight. The other two were imaginary. I am calculating the statistical improbability of Becca choosing this girl–of all the girls in our town, this beautiful, tattooed girl–to be her friend.
And, as it turns out, Charlotte is the younger sister of Charlie’s new English teacher, Ms. Finch–sworn target of all the brainiac budding scientists at his private gifted math/science academy high school. When Charlotte learns Charlie is in her class, Charlotte prods Charlie and his buds to make class as difficult as possible for Ms. Finch. Because, well, that will mean her overachieving sister will get so distracted devising creative reading and writing projects that she won’t have time to worry about Charlotte’s failing health.
Yeah. Did I neglect to mention that Charlotte’s ill? Like REALLY REALLY ill? Big C ill? Because Charlotte actually neglects to mention it to Charlie–who is steadily falling arse-over-teakettle in swoon for her. Not that I blame her–her life is in turmoil and Charlie’s home, family and attention give her the normalcy she can’t find with her own family.
Lookit, I ain’t gonna lie: this book is heartbreaking. It is a slow descent into the kind of literary agony that makes me count my blessings and kiss my kids good night–even my almost-legal teen who fights my authority like a starving dog over a bone. Ms. Finch is desperate to convince Charlotte to try just one more clinical trial. Charlotte is resisting–and Charlie’s caught between them. In the months that he spends with Charlotte he is thoroughly smitten, and thoroughly cowardly. He fears breaking up his sister’s friendship. He fears falling for a girl he (rightfully) believes is dying. He fears NOT loving a girl he loves. Is it really worse to never love than to love and lose, after all? He’s not sure.
All the Shakespeare and To Kill A Mockingbird he’s being force-fed in English are worming into Charlie’s brain, however, weakening his logical desire to avoid avoid avoid this doomed entanglement. And, his BF Greta has some great counsel:
“I’m scared,” I say to the carpet. Being left behind will break me. Of this, I am sure. “How am I supposed to fall in love with a girl when I know she’s going to break my heart?”
“Hey,” Greta says, her voice sharp enough to pull my eyes back up to hers. Maybe that wasn’t pity. “You’re stronger than you think. If you want to fall in love, then fall.”
So, he does. It’s a bit A WALK TO REMEMBER, but hell–that tore the heart right from my chest in the best worst way. And, I loved this tale. Charlie is terrifically human, and scientific, and viciously funny, and honest. You can guess the end, but you can’t imagine the journey. Like real life, this book is all about the journey. It is a trip worth taking.
About the Author
Shannon Lee Alexander is a wife, mother (of two kids and one yellow terrier named Harriet Potter). She is passionate about coffee, books, and cancer research. Math makes her break out in a sweat. Love and Other Unknown Variables is her debut novel. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her family.
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