Dec 8 2007
Dear Ms. Banks,
I might be biased. You see, I spent much of my childhood in various gifted and talented programs and I even attended a magnet high school specializing in math and science. So I just might be a little predisposed towards your novel about a math genius enrolled in a school for gifted children, aka Geek High.
The aforementioned math genius, Miranda Bloom, is known as the Human Calculator. It’s her claim to fame, and even landed her a spot on David Letterman as a child, but it’s also the one thing she hates most. When her writer mother takes off for London to research her latest romance novel, Miranda is left with her father, his new wife, and her stepsister — the first of whom has been neglecting her for the past three years while the other two pretend she doesn’t exist. It couldn’t come at a worse time because this is also the start of a new school year.
While a part of me refuses to believe a mother could just run off to London with no advanced nothing, I also understood that Sadie is flighty and not about to let anything hold her back, even when that “anything” is her own daughter. And it allows us to focus on Miranda’s evolving relationship with her father, Richard, and his new family. After her parents divorced, Miranda’s relationship with Richard fell apart and much of their storyline is devoted to their trying to reconnect. I found Richard’s unconditional acceptance of Miranda while at the same time wanting her to bond with her stepsister Hannah was very realistic. I also loved her awkward relationship with Hannah. If Miranda is the smart girl, Hannah is the pretty girl and the two view each other with varying degrees of wariness and disdain. On the other hand, I thought Miranda’s stepmother, Peyton, was very stereotypical and two-dimensional — a wicked stepmother and nothing more.
Miranda’s interactions with her friends, classmates, and teachers were excellent. Her two best friends are quirky and fun, and their determined refusal to acknowledge their mutual crush was a delight to see through Miranda’s eyes. I especially enjoyed her scenes with the principal, whose Machiavellian tendencies result in blackmailing Miranda to plan the winter dance and rejoining the math team. She may be a genius, but she certainly can’t stop a determined school administrator. It was wonderful to such a diverse and three-dimensional cast of characters. Even her tormentor, Felicity, is more than the cliched high school mean girl who’s mean for the sake of being mean. Her sniping at Miranda has more to do with insecurity and jealousy that Miranda is better than her, even though Miranda thinks the reverse is true.
While Miranda’s hopeless crush on Emmet was cute, especially when she then had to cope with his dating Hannah, what I truly liked was her growing attraction to Hannah’s friend, Dex. I loved their interactions so much that I wished we could have seen much more. I think Miranda’s realization that she judges the pretty, popular people as harshly as the pretty, popular people judge her was the strongest aspect of the book, and her interactions with Dex showed that in a different way from the ones she has with Hannah. By the way, I also loved how Hannah was not the stereotypical mean stepsister. In the end she’s just another girl trying to fit in and understand her genius sister and has all the doubts and concerns you’d expect.
This book’s ending made realize one thing about this subgenre of “Nerdy girl transforms in class hottie” that I wish could be mixed up once in a while. While Miranda’s transformation isn’t quite so extreme as what we often see in teen movies, it would have nice to see a brainy heroine who’s not ashamed of being smart and doesn’t secretly aspire to be a fashion model. It’s not that I don’t think it’s unrealistic for Miranda to want to be pretty and special because what teenage girl doesn’t wish for that at one point or another? And I think her desire to branch out and find her passion was wonderful as well. I just think it’d be nice to see a YA heroine who was happy with her intelligence and didn’t view it as a curse.
Miranda’s story a nice change of pace from the mean girl books I’ve been seeing lately and the gifted high school as a backdrop was very fresh. I look forward to reading more about Miranda and her friends. B