The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb follows Aden through her senior year of high school as she meets, and immediately falls for a Jewish boy named Tate. This novel confronts real teenage issues in an honest way, letting the characters make mistakes and deal with the consequences. Nothing in life is perfect, and this book reflects that.
The Calculus of Change begins with math. Calculus, actually. Aden loves calculus and the idea of “infinitesimal change”.
“Small changes in several steps makes sense to me because it feels like I can somehow control it. I am in charge of getting numbers and symbols where they need to go… What I can’t control in real life is the sudden, catastrophic change that often comes without steps or warning and makes life insufferably different. Like a dead mom. Calculus? Calculus is change I can wrap my head around.”
Throughout the novel we see Aden dealing with body image issues and the ideas of change and control. At the beginning of the book, Aden is desperately trying to keep things under control in her family as she helps her brother with his relationships and walks carefully around her dad’s mood swings. She slowly comes to realize that there are many things in life that can’t be controlled; like your mom dying of cancer.
On the other hand, she also realizes just how many things she can control—like choosing to love herself and make healthy decisions to deal with grief and her relationship with Tate.
Just compare these two parts of the book, one from the beginning and one from the end:
“[Maggie’s] wearing a loose, high-cut top and leggings, and I can see her thin—her stomach—because her arms are reaching up to wrap around Tate’s neck. My eyes water involuntarily at the sight of them together. Kissing.”
“This transformation—it’s like I’ve finally found a way to anchor my body to my soul…. What I see isn’t perfect, but it’s mine. And as I look at myself, I think, I look beautiful because I’m strong.”
I will say that this book left me feeling a little sad. Not all of my questions got answered (not because it was a bad ending, but because life changes can only happen one at a time) and not everything was perfectly happy. But Aden’s growth was so real and honest that I loved seeing her inner strength shine through.
My other favorite character was Aden’s best friend Marissa. Marissa is thin and popular when Aden is not, but the two girls support each other through every up and down. They choose to love each other even when they make mistakes. One of the best moments in their friendship is when Aden picks up Marissa after a party (and a heartbreak). In their little gestures, we can see how much they mean to each other.
“We need comfort food.” I say. “Greasy diner or donuts?”
“Greasy diner,” she says.
“Good choice.” And I squeeze her hand again. She squeezes back.
This book comes with its sad and heavy moments, but I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good contemporary novel about growing up and finding peace with who you are.