Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

4.1 28
by Wendy Lichtman

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Tess loves math because it's the one subject she can trust—there's always just one right answer, and it never changes. But then she starts algebra and is introduced to those pesky and mysterious variables, which seem to be everywhere in eighth grade. When even your friends and parents can be variables, how in the world do you find out the right answers

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Tess loves math because it's the one subject she can trust—there's always just one right answer, and it never changes. But then she starts algebra and is introduced to those pesky and mysterious variables, which seem to be everywhere in eighth grade. When even your friends and parents can be variables, how in the world do you find out the right answers to the really important questions, like what to do about a boy you like or whom to tell when someone's done something really bad?

Will Tess's life ever stop changing long enough for her to figure it all out?

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal

Gr 5-9
Tess is having difficulties navigating the troubled waters of eighth grade. Her best friends are spilling her secrets, a cute classmate's cheated on a test and she can't decide whether or not to tell on him, and she believes that a family friend may have murdered his wife. All a girl can depend on is mathematics and, even then, Tess is learning that the answers aren't as simple as she wishes they were. This novel has an interesting premise: mathematical terms and equations can apply to real-life situations and comfort you when the world seems out of control. However, while the concept is intriguing, the execution is disappointing: there isn't enough action to really make the story a page-turner, and many of the characters are not fully fleshed out. The good news is that Lichtman skillfully captures the teenage voice and she clearly knows her middle school lunchroom politics. Also, the way the characters blow each mundane event out of proportion rings true for this age group. The title and cover are fun; put the book on display and it's likely to circulate.
—Laura LutzCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Told in the first person, this debut set in an Oakland, Calif., middle school sacrifices telling details of setting and character to competing plot lines and a tricky premise involving math. Thirteen-year-old Tess uses the idea of numerical ranking ("inequalities") to describe how her relationship changes with handsome, athletic Richard once she discovers he has stolen a test ("I'm a 7, he's a 4"). Then, she uses graphs to explore possible scenarios related to the suspicious death of the wife of a friend of her artist mother ("breathing rate" over "time"). Oh, what's a girl to do? Then, there's her annoying neighbor, a best friend who can't keep her mouth shut and the selection of a dress for the winter formal (try Venn diagrams!). Although this could have used a tighter focus, tweens may actually relate to the playground politics, get caught up with the suspenseful plot and appreciate the accessibility of arithmetic, thanks to Lichtman's lucid descriptions and drawings. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Do the Math , #1
Sold by:
Sales rank:
1050L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
13 Years

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Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra

Chapter One


The copy room at my school is actually just a closet next to Ms. Balford's office, so when Richard came in and said, "Hey, Tess," he was standing about two inches behind me. "Could I borrow the machine for a second?" he whispered, closing the door quietly.

I took a stack of paper from the drawer, turned away from Richard, and refilled the empty tray while I tried to decide what I should answer.

The only reason I'm allowed to use the copy machine is that it's my job to make three hundred copies of the newsletter every Thursday. Ms. Balford never exactly said that I shouldn't let anyone else in the room, but when she showed me where she hung the key she made a big deal about how she trusted me, so I knew I wasn't supposed to let anyone just stroll in.

"I heard you were the reason the math team won on Saturday," Richard said before I decided anything.

"Not really," I said, but I kind of smiled at that, because in the final round I was the one who had answered the last question correctly, so in a way it was true that I was the reason we won.

If coolness could be rated on a 10-point scale, Richard would be at least a 9. He's one of the bestbasketball players at Westlake School, he's extremely good-looking, and his father is some big deal—not a mayor, but something like that.

On basketball game days the boys on the team have to wear ties to school, so that afternoon in the copy room Richard was wearing a light blue shirt with a green and blue tie that had a small print of Mickey Mouse on it. It may not sound great, but he looked verygood.

When my hair's okay and I'm wearing something like the red sweater that zips and my black jeans, my looks might be about an 8, but today I wasn't wearing anything great and my hair is still a weird length because of the stupid haircut that made my ponytail about two inches long. Miranda says I have "naturally great skin" because I don't break out, and "perfect proportions" because I'm not skinny or fat, but even Miranda says the haircut was a mistake. Anyway, I would have to say that in the copy room I looked 6.5, at best.

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. So when I finished putting more paper in the top tray, I stepped aside and said, "Go ahead," because we both knew that Richard was > me (R>T).

Richard acted like he wasn't doing anything wrong, but I could tell that he was trying to hide the papers he was copying. I pretended to look for the stapler so he wouldn't think I was snooping, but Richard is not stupid.

Neither am I. When I saw the words "Your Constitution" and about five pages of questions, I knew exactly what he was doing. Next Monday all eighth graders have to take a test on the U.S. Constitution, and Richard had obviously stolen the test off Mr. Wright's desk and was making a copy so he could put the original one back and not get caught.

Richard has these perfectly straight teeth even though he never wore braces, and you can tell he knows how good he looks when he smiles. He smiled at me when he finished copying the stolen test and said, "Thanks a lot, Tess," and I said, "No problem," even though there was one.

The problem was that I felt angry because Richard thought he could sneak into the copy room when I was in there and I wouldn't say anything because of who he is. I was angry at myself, too, because I didn't say anything. And I know that if someone like Lynn, who lies all the time and tells everyone that she's best friends with Miranda and me, had come in to copy a stolen test when I was working, I would have told her no way, because it's pretty obvious that L<T.

In math, if a number is greater than or less than another one, that never changes. The inequality 11>7 is always true, for example. But with people, that's not the way it works.

Now that I know Richard stole the U.S. Constitution test, and he knows I know, I think our inequality may have changed. Maybe now T≥R.

Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra. Copyright © by Wendy Lichtman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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