Higher Geometryby Sharelle Byars Moranville
Anna loves math, and her boyfriend, Mike. Will she have to choose between them?
Anna Conway sometimes wishes her relationships would come as easy to her as math does. A natural math talent, Anna is at odds with what's expected of her as a teenager in the 1950s. While Anna aspires to leave her small town for college to study mathematics, her parents want/b>
Anna loves math, and her boyfriend, Mike. Will she have to choose between them?
Anna Conway sometimes wishes her relationships would come as easy to her as math does. A natural math talent, Anna is at odds with what's expected of her as a teenager in the 1950s. While Anna aspires to leave her small town for college to study mathematics, her parents want her to follow the more traditional path of getting married and starting a family. Anna's never really thought of dating before, but when she meets Mike, their relationship takes off and goes further than she'd ever expected. Now it's up to Anna to make her future happen. But how will she choose?
In beautiful prose, Sharelle Byars Moranville explores the importance of believing in dreams in order to make a difference.
A Higher Geometry is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
- Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.22(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.89(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 - 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
A Higher Geometry
By Sharelle Byars Moranville
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2006 Sharelle Byars Moranville
All rights reserved.
The back of my neck tingled with the sense of someone looking at me. Mike.
I was starting to turn around when Jessie Tate interrupted me.
"Will you check my problems, Anna?" she asked, clutching a notebook, catching herself as the bus rocked through a mud hole.
I patted the seat beside me where somebody had Inked Maverick into the brown leather.
"Preacher says it's wicked to stay home and watch Maverick on Sunday night," Jessie announced, thrusting her notebook into my lap.
Well, we didn't have a television so I didn't have to worry about that particular sin.
I glanced at Jessie's homework. "Look," I said, pointing to a couple of problems. "You have to do the math inside the parentheses first. Remember? Always start on the inside and work your way out."
"Oh yeah." She took the notebook back and attacked her work, erased, blew and brushed the rubbings onto my skirt.
As Jessie worked, I took out the new glasses that I still forgot about sometimes. Carolyn said glasses were boy bait — that boys fantasized about taking off girls' glasses — which made no sense to me at all.
The rims were black, with three little rhinestones in each corner, almost identical to the kind Meema had worn.
"Now look," Jessie said, tilting her notebook so I could see the reworked answers.
I scanned them. "They're fine, Jessie."
"Thanks!" She slapped the notebook shut and bounded forward to her seat.
I opened my trig book to read the problem I had to explain in class that morning. But before I could begin, Mike moved up to my seat.
"Hi," he said. "Mind if I sit with you?"
I smiled at him and he settled in beside me. He wore a pair of black wash pants and a plaid shirt, and I could smell the Niagara starch as if the shirt were still warm from the ironing board.
"What are you working on?" he asked.
Before I could stop myself, I spread my fingers over the open pages.
He leaned over to read the page anyway. "Trigonometry?" he asked, brushing my fingers aside. I could see little comb tracks in the hair behind his ear.
"No. I mean yes. It's a math review problem I have to present in trig class."
"You have to show the class how to solve it?"
"Yeah," he said.
I read the problem in a low voice, my face burning. Mr. Walters had the bus heater up way too high. If Carolyn heard about me reading math to a boy, she'd never let me forget it. The first rule of boy-girl etiquette: Never make a boy feel you're smarter than he is.
But while I sketched the diagram, Mike leaned close, watching, his arm touching mine. "So a railroad track goes around a curve and you have to find out how much longer the outside rail is than the inside one," he remarked when I held the drawing up.
"Will you go to Homecoming with me?" he asked.
My pencil started shaking so I slid it into the spiral of my notebook, closed everything up, and stacked the books neatly on my lap. Then I turned my face ninety degrees and looked into Mike's eyes. They were brown and widely spaced — the calmest eyes I'd ever seen.
"Just you?" I asked.
"Well, yeah." Mike laughed.
I had said something incredibly stupid. "I don't think so."
"It's just that I can't go in a car alone with a boy until I'm sixteen."
"It's a rule. My daddy says I have to wait until then."
"Well, is that a long way off? Being sixteen?" Hope rose in Mike's eyes.
I looked away, turning my pencil inside the spiral.
But he rallied. "Your daddy will need to bend the rules this once because Homecoming will be all over by next April."
I laughed at his twist of logic. He didn't understand that Daddy's rules were like mathematics axioms. Bend an axiom and the whole universe collapsed.
As we rode along on the bus, Mike didn't say anything for a while. He had opened a notebook with unlined sheets of paper and he sketched things we saw out the bus windows. Rolling fields, nearly bare trees, the great wooden skeleton of the railroad overpass across Skillet Fork.
"Meema was an artist," I said.
"My grandmother. She was killed in an accident last Fourth of July." Mike might have heard about it, even though it had happened before his family moved here.
He looked up from his work. "I'm sorry," he said, and I saw in his eyes that he was.
Meema's death had slammed shut a part of the past that was precious to me. For a few years during World War II, I had lived with Meema and Granddad. Then, after the war, when Daddy came back and we set up our own home, I continued to stay at Meema's a lot of the time. I still had my own bedroom there.
In Mike's drawing, the very school bus in which we rode emerged on the far side of Skillet Fork. Then he ripped the sheet out of his notebook. "Would you like to have this? In exchange for the trig problem?"
And now it was my turn again. I took his pencil and wrote the number 220 neatly in the corner of a page of his sketch pad. Then I penciled 284 in very small letters in the lower right-hand corner of the drawing he'd given me.
"They're friendly numbers that have a mystical relationship with each other," I heard myself saying.
Our eyes met, and Mike smiled.
Mrs. Ballard had told us about Pythagoras's friendly numbers. They were equal to the sum of the other's proper divisors. The proper divisors of 220 were 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, and 110. And those numbers summed to 284. And 284's proper divisors summed to 220.
We were at school then and I saw Carolyn out front in the cold, hugging her books and stamping her feet, waiting for me.
"Just ask your daddy," Mike said as he followed me down the bus steps.CHAPTER 2
"Perfect, Anna," Mr. Carson declared, as I finished presenting the problem of the railroad tracks.
Nate rolled his eyes at me, communicating what all the boys in trig class thought. A girl with some mathematical ability was like a poodle that could do cute tricks: charming, but of no real value in their world.
All except for Bud Keegan.
The Keegans lived up the road north of us in nothing more than a dugout. Five kids and no mother. And Bud did his homework in tiny print on both sides of the paper clear out to the margins — paper so worn that I hated touching it when we checked each other's work. But Bud's math grades were almost as good as mine and he treated me like a friend instead of a novelty item.
"Anna has taken us almost halfway to the solution of today's real problem — which is, how much track could we save if we laid it in a straight line from one end of the curve to the other?" He turned the chalk sideways and drew a thick line straight between the endpoints of the curve.
We would have to find the length of that line and compare it with the length of the curve. I looked at the board and tried to picture what to do before Mr. Carson mapped it all out. We would have to come up with two right angles and use the sine function.
But the catch turned out to be that we had to find the sine of half a twenty-five-degree angle, which — of course — wasn't in the tables in the back of the book. I averaged the values of twelve and thirteen degrees and came up with an answer which, in this case, turned out to be right.
However, averaging wouldn't always work, as Mr. Carson explained, because sometimes the angle you were looking for wasn't exactly halfway between the two listed in the table. And you had to consider whether the sine was rising or falling.
So, he had introduced us to interpolation — which seemed simple enough — even if it did mean grinding out a lot of numbers with our pencils.
During the whole class, Mr. Carson's slide rule lay on his desk. I would have given anything for a slide rule. Maybe if Daddy hadn't had to buy my glasses I could have talked him into one for Christmas. A slide rule would be much faster and easier than using tables in a book.
When class was dismissed for lunch I stayed at my desk, waiting for Carolyn, who was in a room down the hall taking a timed typing test. Carolyn had aspirations to be the fastest typist, the best dictation taker, and the most fashionable secretary in North America. She would eventually marry the boss — who looked a lot like Rock Hudson — and he would keep her well with a house in Connecticut, a station wagon, a houseful of children, and a beagle.
Carolyn could style her thick strawberry blond hair three different ways in ten minutes. And I loved her because she looked right through my oddness without even seeing it.CHAPTER 3
"Where's Daddy?" I asked, dropping my books on the kitchen counter.
"I expect he's working late," Mama replied. "Why?"
She was ironing in the kitchen, a basket of sprinkled and rolled laundry beside her. The twins' tiny starched dresses hung from the cupboard knobs. Mama was listening to Bobby Darin singing "Mack the Knife" on KXOK.
"I need to ask him something," I said.
I poured a glass of milk and took a handful of Saltines into the dining room. The east window was open. The twins played at the edge of the yard, digging in a pile of dirt left over from plowing. The bottoms of their red dresses ruffled out like poppies beneath their long sweaters.
Over by the barn, a cow bawled for her calf.
The twins looked up, saw me, and flew to the window.
"We're digging a cave, Anna!" Melanie announced in her croaky bullfrog voice.
"And we'll live in it when it's done!" Cassie chimed in, brandishing a sandbox shovel.
The girls giggled and ran back to their excavation site.
"What did you want to ask Daddy?" Mama said as I returned to the kitchen to rinse my glass.
I didn't want to talk about it twice. Asking Daddy would be hard enough, especially when I knew he was going to say no.
"Anna?" Mama pressed.
I sighed. "Mike Dillon asked me to the Homecoming game."
"Just the two of you?"
"Yes." I felt my face turning hot.
"Well, I think that would be real nice," Mama said.
"You've been so blue since —" She broke off to shake out my plaid skirt before she spread it over the ironing board, and she didn't finish the sentence. It would have ended since Meema died. "It'll do you good to get out. Besides, Mike's just a neighbor."
But being turned loose to go out alone with a boy wasn't supposed to happen yet. Sixteen was a number. An integer. And I wouldn't be that number for more than five months. Mama, of all people, should know that.
"Isn't the Homecoming game a week from Friday?" she asked.
"Then this Saturday we could go into town and shop for something pretty for you to wear. We could take Carolyn and make a day of it. Wouldn't that be fun? We could leave the twins at home with Daddy."
Mama took the twins everywhere. They were her life. When I was little, she'd been away, living and working where Daddy was stationed during the war, and I'd grown up as Meema's girl. I knew it wasn't Mama's fault Meema had died, but I wished she wouldn't try to horn in now.
I could hear the strain in her voice, as I'm sure she could hear it in mine when I said, "I guess I could mention it to Carolyn."
Mama had no more than started passing the pot roast around that evening when Daddy said to me, "So you want to go out with Mike Dillon just this one time?"
His eyebrows stayed up as he waited for my answer.
Yes would sound like I wanted to go one time. No would sound like I didn't want to go at all.
Boolean algebra, where every answer was yes or no, one or zero, on or off, wasn't working.
And while I struggled, Daddy made up his mind. "I guess it would be okay this once."CHAPTER 4
When we were carving pumpkins on the front porch the next evening, I hugged my knees under my skirt, trying to keep warm.
The paper Mr. Carson had given us rustled in my skirt pocket. I took it out.
"What's that?" Daddy asked.
"An invitation," I said, not knowing where to begin.
"To a math contest at the university. In the spring."
Daddy's eyes showed puzzlement.
"I'd like to go."
Daddy frowned as he went back to working on Cassie's pumpkin. "Why?" he asked.
"Well, I'll be out of high school in one year," I said. Some people went to college, though nobody in our family had yet.
"What do you think I'll be when I grow up?" I asked.
Daddy stopped carving the snaggletooth grin on Cassie's pumpkin and looked at me as if I'd asked from which direction the sun would rise tomorrow. "Well, I expect you'll be a fine wife and mother."
"If you can find a good man to take care of you, you don't need to be anything."
I buried my face in the crook of my arm so Daddy wouldn't see my expression.
"Sometimes things can go wrong with a plan like that," he conceded. "There's Mrs. Ballard, for instance."
His mouth curved down as if he'd said There's leprosy, for instance.
Did he know what he was saying? Mrs. Ballard had two degrees in math. She made it come alive — to seem like something more important than just finding solutions to textbook problems.
Mrs. Ballard was divorced. That's what Daddy meant. She wasn't respectable. A math and science teacher, of all things! And real lucky to have a job, as he was very fond of pointing out, since she was a divorced woman.
"It wouldn't hurt to have a backup plan," Daddy admitted. "Secretarial courses would be good."
Sometimes Daddy sounded just like Carolyn. Learn to type and marry the boss.
"But you find a good man, Anna, and the future will take care of itself." He fitted the top on Cassie's pumpkin.
I missed Meema so much. She would have looked Daddy in the eye and said, "Let Anna try out her dreams. She's different."
I snatched up my knife and went to work on my pumpkin.
"Yours looks really mad, Anna," Melanie said after we had lined the jack-o'-lanterns up on the porch railing.
And although it was a school night, and Daddy surely knew I had homework, he asked me to ride up to Granddad's with him as soon as supper was over. "I need to take back the come-along," he explained. "Dad's still got a few cows that haven't calved yet."
"Go on, Anna," Mama encouraged me. "The twins and I can do the dishes."
I didn't want to go to Granddad's house. It was too painful.
"Dad's not seen you for a long time," Daddy said, playing on my guilt.
When Meema died, Granddad had lost me as well. I'd always spent a lot of time up there, staying in my old room upstairs next to Meema's workroom. The bus driver was used to me flagging him down in front of their house.
"Tell Granddad I'll see him at church on Sunday," I said. I'd been using headaches, cramps, head colds, and anything I could think of to get out of going to church. But maybe Daddy would take the hook: I'd go to church Sunday if he wouldn't make me go to Granddad's tonight.
"You come on," Daddy insisted. "I need some company."
I got my jacket and followed him, but I banged the truck door so hard that the puff of dust made me cough. The come-along rattled in the back as we jolted over the rough road. If I had to go to Meema and Granddad's house, then Daddy had to listen to me about going to visit the university.
That was my real motive for competing in the math contest. Who cared about another test? My whole experience of college campuses came from a movie I'd gone to with Meema and Granddad.
College would be easier to talk Daddy into if I'd touched and smelled it first.
"So can I go?" I asked.
Daddy knew what I meant — what I'd been sitting there thinking about.
"Don't you reckon you need to rest that mind of yours now and then? Give it some time off from all that schoolwork?"
"My mind isn't tired."
Daddy didn't say any more.
When we got to Granddad's, there was a light on in the kitchen, and the rest of the place was dark.
I went in while Daddy took the come-along to the machine shed. My stomach hurt.
"Anna!" Granddad said, looking up.
His pale, bald forehead gleamed in the overhead light. Fried potatoes and meat were half eaten on a plate, and the house smelled of old grease. Dishes, dirty and clean, littered the counters.
"Where have you been?" he tried to tease. "I thought maybe you'd moved away."
I gave him a hug and stretched out my hand to the rambling bittersweet painted on the cupboards.
"Meema did that," he said, as if I might have forgotten in four months the very essence of her and all the beauty she brought to our world.
The harsh overhead light that Granddad had on was unkind to all that beauty. When Meema was alive, she used soft lamplight even in the kitchen.
What emptiness lay beyond the glare of the kitchen, I couldn't bear to think about. My old room upstairs.
We didn't stay long. Granddad offered to fry us some tenderloin, but Daddy told him we'd had supper.
"You should eat with us, Dad," Daddy said as we were leaving. "Jo has said a hundred times she'd be glad to have you."
Granddad murmured something, but he shook his head no.
On the way back home, I stared into the blackness, knowing exactly what was out there. Corn stubble, timber, rusted and abandoned oil pumps.
Daddy tapped his hand on the steering wheel. "Anna, I'm letting you go out with a boy, even though you're not sixteen yet. I can understand a girl wanting to do that."
Why was Daddy talking about my date with Mike?
"And now you're asking me to let you make a trip to the university. That I don't understand."
Excerpted from A Higher Geometry by Sharelle Byars Moranville. Copyright © 2006 Sharelle Byars Moranville. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Sharelle Byars Moranville is the author of the acclaimed novels Over the River and The Purple Ribbon. She lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband.
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