Author: Shannon Lee Alexander
Synopsis: 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).
Copies were provided by Entangled Teen during the INSPIRE! Book Fair 2014.
I loved that this was a cancer book that… wasn’t about cancer. One thing that I hate about cancer books is how they try SO HARD to show how brave the sick person is as they go through treatment and then usually (but sometimes not) don’t get better. I often don’t read cancer books because I’ve already been there with too many family members and I’ve already experience first hand how treatment can be more of a curse than cure. So when I started to read this book I was a little apprehensive. And I was so shocked that we didn’t even learn about Charlotte’s cancer until almost half way through the book.
This is a story about a boy named Charlie who loves to solve problems. And then he meets a girl who he can’t solve. Charlotte is new in town and she’s befriended Charlie’s younger sister, Becca. I LOVED the friendship between Charlotte and Becca and the dynamic between the three of them. Becca doesn’t do friends, she has sever social anxiety and this is her friend real friend in about 14 years. Everyone in the family tip-toes around this, and it does make it difficult for Charlie to deal with his crush on Charlotte. I loved that he was so respectful of his sister’s “I was here first” friendship-claim over Charlotte and that he didn’t want to ruin their friendship.
I wasn’t really into the whole ‘prank the teacher’ thing and was a little upset that Charlie and his friends were willing to risk themselves so much. I was glad that later on Charlie had a different perspective on what he was doing and realized how wrong he was. I know that he was trying to help Charlotte, but I just felt so bad for Ms. Finch.
Another relationship I loved was between Mrs. Dunwitty and Charlie. She was such a great character and really helped Charlie grow. All of their interactions cracked me up and I was really happy that Charlie grew to care about the cranky old woman.
I guess what I really enjoyed the most about this book was how honest the relationships were. They were complicated and sometimes best friends fought and other times they realized they were much closer than they thought. Charlie and Charlotte were so nice together and I loved that it didn’t spiral off into them doing stupid things just because she was dying. I loved how they shared good and bad together, and how honest Charlie’s feelings were from the moment he met her.
Overall this was a really nice book with a lot of meaningful, funny, and sad moments mixed together with an authentic voice and realistic characters.
First off, I admit: I’m not the biggest romance fan. A romance has to work exceptionally hard for me to enjoy it and generally in young adult it’s something I struggle with. This book however? I bought the romance, if only because Alexander does an amazing job of having Charlie and Charlotte get to know each other. Despite each other’s issues, you get this large sense how and why they work as a couple.
And while Love and Other Unknown Variables is a cancer story, it doesn’t feel like that of The Fault in Our Stars. Every aspect of how cancer exists in the story is subtle, it’s not in your face. In fact, it takes the author more than half the book to let on that Charlotte has cancer, even though small bread crumbs up to the reveal are dropped. I liked that about this story, because it focused on this idea that people who have cancer want a sense of normality and can have it to an extent. My mother suffers from the same kind of cancer that Charlotte has in the story, so I found my connection to her even stronger as I read on.
I loved the way Alexander develops relationships for her characters. Regardless of whether they are good or bad, you get a sense that the characters are connected. A lot of the secondary characters such as Mrs. Dunwitty, Becca, Ms. Finch, all get well-developed in the narrative and feel as fleshed out as Charlie and Charlotte.
I was grateful that the author went the route to create a more subtle story where the teens don’t go off to do wild and insane things on the account of someone having cancer. It’s genuinely funny, and very rich with emotion. I highly recommend this book, especially to fans who might be the biggest romance fans.