Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Review - Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

Let's just put all the geekiness out front and admit that I am a Nerd Fighter and proud of it. Actually, I've been a closet nerd for a long time. My father was a science teacher, so we spent many afternoons and weekends doing experiments in the basement. We also frequently visited Ward's, a science supply company that had a rock pile out back where they discarded samples that weren't perfect enough for sale. This is where the core of my rock collection came from. I spent a lot of my free time outside, exploring the woods and fields, picking up every manner of creature, and taking in all that I could. When I wasn't off on my own, I was watching my Dad and brother rebuild old cars, anxious to know how they worked and desperate to get greasy with the boys.

All of these experiences have led me to view my world through the lens of science. It is this proclivity to see connections to science that made me so identify with Tess, an eighth grade girl who sees her world through the lens of mathematics. In Wendy Lichtman's book, Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, Tess struggles with typical middle school problems--friends breaking promises, peers cheating on tests, the boy that may-or-may not be interested--all while negotiating some drama at home. That she examines everything mathematically may not appeal to some readers, but surely, if they don't see themselves in Tess, they're bound to have a friend just like her. And really, how can you not like a girl with insights like these?
We're spending a lot of time studying inequalities in algebra now, which makes sense, since who you're greater than (>) and who you're less than (<) is kind of the point of eighth grade. (p. 3)

The very first thing that Mr. Wright talked about in history class was the U.S. Constitution test. "This test is of infinite importance" is what he said, which is, of course, ridiculous. Infinite means that there's no end to something--that it's immeasurable. You can never get to the end of the number line, for example, because you can always add one more number, so that is infinite. But give me a break, no test is close to being of "infinite importance." (p. 32)

The way Sammy spoke about her mother made me think of what Venn diagrams look like when the two sets have nothing in common--like, for example, the set of odd numbers and the set of even numbers. Their intersection is called an empty set, because there's nothing in it. There's not one number that can be both odd and even. I didn't like thinking of Sammy and her mother like that--like an empty set. (p.49)
I not only found myself thoroughly identifying with Tess, but found myself secretly thrilled that the teachers in the story were enthusiastic about their subjects, good at what they did, and sympathetic to the needs of their students.

Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra is a quick and enjoyable read. I found the characters to be likable and the situations about middle school to be entirely believable. I recommend it without reservation.

Book: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra
Author: Wendy Lichtman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
Pages: 183
Grades: 5-8
ISBN-10: 0061229555
ISBN-13: 978-0061229558
Source of Book: Copy purchased at local bookstore


  1. As a former math geek myself, I find this book intriguing. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Tricia,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful review! I'm very glad you enjoyed my book, and appreciate your other suggestions for tying in math and literacy.
    Wendy Lichtman

  3. Oh Wendy, thanks so much for stopping by. I just loved Tess and found the problems she faced to be so real and important.
    Thanks for the great book.