There are some great images of the little seaside town of Holksea, as well as some inventive sentences in which to lose yourself in The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, (2016, 322 pages). There is a childhood best friend who was gone for years but has recently returned to town and who is becoming a boyfriend. There are many things to like about this book. However, I felt the time travel aspect was very weak. Most of the time travel consisted of Gottie viewing episodes of her past, like she was watching a video, without actually entering the past.
Summary from Goodreads:
This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.
Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide—and someone’s heart is about to be broken.
With time travel, quantum physics, and sweeping romance, The Square Root of Summer is an exponentially enthralling story about love, loss, and trying to figure it all out, from stunning debut YA voice, Harriet Reuter Hapgood.
Seventeen-year-old Gottie is very good at “maths”, as they say across the pond. Without giving too much away, I can share that she realizes that her time travel is made possible via wormholes that appear in front of her. The wormholes have an emotional cause. Gottie draws diagrams of them, accompanied with equations. I appreciate the author’s attempt at trying to explain time travel in a novel way, and I guess wormholes are as good an explanation for this imaginary phenomenon as any. It was fun to see Gottie’s doodles in her notebook as she figured things out. I personally was not interested in the math so I skimmed it, but sci-fi geeks might like this aspect of the book.
I am still wondering if I missed something, because the book is supposed to be a time travel story but it didn’t really seem like Gottie went back in time. Initially, she thought she was just having very vivid memories. She then decided she was time traveling, but because she doesn’t interact with anyone in the past, but rather just sees events that already happened, the episodes continued to seem like flashbacks to me. Except for one email, the traditional nature of time is not disturbed. The “time travel” episodes are written in italics, which is helpful in identifying them.
Gottie seems kind of depressed. She mopes around a lot and does not seem to appreciate the cool people around her. I don’t really get Gottie. But there are several supporting characters who are great. Thomas is funny and charming. (He likes to bake!) Her friend Sof and members of her family are richly drawn. The dad’s first language is German and there are many German words sprinkled throughout the story which add color. However, the German occasionally interfered with my understanding of the book, so I could have done with a bit less of it. The free-wheeling family is unique, as is the little English seaside town.
I feel The Square Root of Summer is most successful as a love story. You could take the time travel out and the plot would be about the same. This book reminded me a little bit of The Love that Split the World, by Emily Henry, another YA romance/time travel story.
Here’s another review of The Square Root of Summer by Caitlyn Paxson for NPR book reviews.