Love and Other Unknown Variables = Shannon Lee Alexander
I may need to do this with a selection of gifs because askdhafasfn
So, I started like this:
Which soon became this:
Which descended into:
With occasional blasts of this:
Whenever I see reviews for this book, I’m always overwhelmed by how often it is compared to the Fault in Our Stars. While this is a perfectly valid comparison, both feature smart kids blighted by cancer and are incredibly well written and pack an emotional punch, it’s a little bit like comparing me to my brother. We have similarities, but we’re different people, with different ambitions and achievements. So, yes, Love and other Unknown Variables is like TFIOS, but it is also a perfectly solid stand alone book that is capable of achieving the tears of nerdfighters the world over.
Basically, the best thing to say would be that if you are a fan of John Green, you’re probably going to love this, it has the same thing that made TFIOS special, but with an air of An Abundance of Katherines. Another book this book reminded me of is The Rosie Project. So do with that what you will. But the one book that this definitely needs to be compared to is To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven’t seen any other reviews that make this comparison, but guys, if we have to draw comparisons between Love and Other Unknown Variables, it has to be with To Kill a Mockingbird.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favourites, so this isn’t something I’m saying lightly, not only did L&OUV (do you like this abbreviation? I feel like I’m ruining the title doing that) mention To Kill a Mockingbird, it is full of references, lead character Charlotte’s surname is Finch, other lead character Charlie describes himself as having duck feather like hair, you know who else has that? Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird.
Charlie, on reading TKAM (that looks even worse), learns about what being a hero and having courage really means (which is one of the many points of that novel), plus, he is forced, through punishment, to spend time with a cantankerous old lady who is dying, do you know who else does that? Jem, one of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, and this experience has a profound effect on both of them. So, yes, this book is a cancer book, it is like The Fault in Our Stars in that context, it is also like Before I die and if you like either of those, this is probably right up your street, but for the love of God, the one thing you should be comparing it to is To Kill a Mockingbird, which you all need to read immediately if you haven’t already done so. Love and Other Unknown Variables has so many parallels with it, it’s almost a homage, which is amazing, because seriously, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the all time greats.
Anyway, that’s enough of that, on with actually telling you what this is about.
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)
When I started this book I wasn’t overly enamoured with it.
Whilst I love nerd love with a firey passion and whilst I couldn’t help but smirk to myself at all the wonderful mentions of Iron Man et al, it did take me a while to get to know and like our narrator, Charlie. He’s awkward and nervous, super smart and really into maths, he has no idea how to talk to girls he’s attracted to (he’s fine talking to girls in general, his best friend is female – though apparently, he doesn’t understand that he’s not allowed to just touch people if he feels like it) and when we first meet him, he molests the girl standing in front of him in a queue, which really didn’t sit well with me at all. I don’t care how socially inept you are, touching someone who isn’t expecting/doesn’t want to be touched and dissing their choice of body art is a no no. You could be the smartest, cutest person on the planet and it is still a no. What’s worse about this encounter is that the aforementioned best friend didn’t even jump in and call him out on how bad it was to treat a fellow female in this way, instead choosing to wait for a couple of pages and then just very calmly ask him about his social ineptitude. So, I pretty much was convinced from that moment onwards that I was going to hate it and it was only the Tony Stark reference a little later in the chapter that pulled me back in. But, I am oh so glad that I stuck with it. Charlie redeems himself a lot when his mathmatical brain that can unravel scientific equations and add up super fast, can not for the life of him help him decipher his feelings for the aforementioned molested girl (yes. It was a meet-cute). What comes next is a beautifully well developed relationship between the two of them which becomes bitter sweet and marred with tragedy.
Charlotte, the girl from the queue, was awesome, I kind of liked her straight away, she wasn’t afraid to call Charlie out on his nonsense and was sassy, smart and funny. Exactly how I like them, without falling into the manic pixie dream girl trope. I was actually a little heart broken that they didn’t get more time together, their awkward flirting as they both danced around their attraction for each other was adorable and I just wanted to push them together and be like KISS GODDAMN IT!
Both Charlotte and Charlie were great actually, personality wise, they were both intelligent and witty, but their intellect shone in different ways, which I really liked, Charlie isn’t very well read, he doesn’t enjoy literature, he likes science and maths and he doesn’t understand society all that well. Charlotte may not be at the same standard as him mathematically, but she is well read, she can read people and the fact that we got to see that there is more to being clever than being able to add up was really good. It is also through each other that they explore their intellect and the different ways there is to be clever, it is through Charlotte and her sister that Charlie discovers To Kill a Mockingbird, that he reads it and learns from Atticus’ moral lessons, from Jem and Scout, he learns about what it means to be brave and the differences between winning and losing. Charlotte, who is a great artist, starts seeing the maths and the science behind her designs, the way that they bring out the best in each other (and specifically the way Charlotte interacts with Charlie’s sister, Becca) is so enjoyable to see unfold.
Those two weren’t the only two good characters in the book, while I felt that Charlie was a bit critical of his sister, Becca, especially considering that he too is really socially awkward, I kind of loved her and we see that although the story is about Charlie and Charlotte’s blossoming relationship, Charlotte and Becca’s friendship was a joy to watch develop too. I thought everyone’s characterisations were really good actually. James was an awesome character, he is a guy that is secure enough with who he is to cook food for his friends and siblings. To the point where he will prepare a meal before school and then invite his friends to join him and his family to eat it later. How many guys to you come across that are completely comfortable doing that whilst also acting the clown at school? James is also an amazing boyfriend in terms of the way he treats and respects Greta. Give the boy a book of his own! I loved him! Greta was cool too, she was, like most of the kids in this book, super smart (they were all so smart it bordered on irritating at times) but she also managed to be super smart whilst having a boyfriend, being a best friend and being a normal teenager and was in most ways, more teenage than Charlie was.
I suppose I should talk about the crying.
There was a bit, so, fair warning, don’t read this in a public place. I made the mistake of reading TFIOS on an 8 hour plane journey. Rookie error. If you are planning a trip where you will be in a confined space surrounded by strangers for a significant amount of time, perhaps wait until you get home before diving into this, you’re going to need a pack of tissues, some sad music and maybe a pot of Ben and Jerry’s come the end. I don’t want to give too much away, the endless comparisons to TFIOS and the blurb kind of tell you what to expect, but I guess, stick with the douchebaggery of the first chapter and you will end up having your heart ripped out. I ended up staying up til 2 in the morning sobbing into my kindle because of this. You have been warned.
Also, physically this book is hella cute. The cover is gorgeous and the pages inside feature graph paper. It’s totally in character for Charlie and even though I was sent an egalley of this to review, I am genuinely considering buying it because it would look amazing on my shelf.
I need to balance this out a bit, so here are a few things that didn’t quite work.
One thing I thought was a little weird, Charlie introduces himself as Charlie and for the first few chapters is referred to and answers to Charlie. He then meets Charlotte in his kitchen and it is revealed that Charlotte is often called Charley, but Becca won’t call her that because her brother is called Charlie, so she is going to call her Charlotte instead. (This is repeated later when Charlotte’s sister meets Charlie and calls him by his surname because Charlotte is Charley to her) A few scenes later, we have Charlie and Charlotte meeting at a super market where this exchange happens: Charlotte says “Hi Charlie, right?”
Charlie nods and says “Other Charlie.”
But – I am going somewhere with this – Greta randomly starts calling Charlie Chuck after Becca has decided that Charlotte will be referred to by her full name. She does this until the end of the book, though she doesn’t do it at the beginning. Mrs Dimwitty refers to him as Charles, Charlie and Jack. While I understand that people have nicknames for their friends, what I don’t get is… If Charlie happy being Chuck, why can’t that just be his name and Charlotte be Charley? And why, if Charlie is Charlie, not just call him Charlie!? Apart from the asshat moment at the beginning with the molesting and the tattoo, this was the only other thing that confused me. I think had Greta called Charlie Chuck from the beginning, I would have just accepted it and got on with it, but when she starts calling him that, it seemed so random that I didn’t quite get when it couldn’t be Chuck and Charley instead of Charlie and Charlotte. Anyway.
TLDR – This book is amazing, it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll change your life.
If you like John Green, read it. If you like To Kill a Mockingbird, read it.
I’m done now. As you were.