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The Calculus of Change

The Calculus of Change

by Jessie Hilb
The Calculus of Change

The Calculus of Change

by Jessie Hilb


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A poignant and empowering teen novel of grief, unrequited love, and finding comfort in one's own skin.

Aden isn't looking for love in her senior year. She's much more focused on things like getting a solo gig at Ike's and keeping her brother from illegal herbal recreation. But when Tate walks into Calculus class wearing a yarmulke and a grin, Aden's heart is gone in an instant.

The two are swept up in a tantalizingly warm friendship, complete with long drives with epic soundtracks and deep talks about life, love, and spirituality. With Tate, Aden feels closer to her mom—and her mom's faith—than she has since her mother died years ago. Everyone else—even Aden's brother and her best friend—can see their connection, but does Tate?

Navigating uncertain romance and the crises of those she loves, Aden must decide how she chooses to see herself and how to honor her mom’s memory.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544953338
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: HL610L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jessie Hilb holds a Masters in Social Work and lives in Boulder, Colorado with her family and ever-loyal herding dog. She constantly reinvents herself. The Calculus of Change is her first novel. Visit her online at and on Twitter at @JessieHilb.

Read an Excerpt


Immediately I want him. Not because he has pierced ears. Not because he has unruly brown hair and gray-blue eyes. I want Tate Newman because he is wearing a two-toned blue handwoven yarmulke atop his head. It’s like he’s wearing a piece of his soul outside himself. I’ve been watching him for a few weeks now. We have math together, which is where I noticed the yarmulke. He’s just returned from a summer trip to Israel with a big group of Jewish kids from Bentley. He’s the only one in the group still wearing his yarmulke, and when I look at him, I see audacity and spirit, and I want those things in my life. I decide I want him in my life.
     He says my name like we’ve talked a million times before.
     I wonder if he can hear the nervous laughter behind my voice.
     “Calculus,” he says.
     And I know exactly what he means.
     “Calculus,” I say.
     So this is how we meet. We meet after school in the hallway of Bentley High over happenstance and a calculus problem.
     He couldn’t know that I have a secret passion for all things calculus. Calculus, as it has been described by our math teacher, “is the study of change.” I like the idea of infinitesimal change. Small change in several steps makes sense to me because it feels like somehow I can control it. I am in charge of getting the numbers and symbols where they need to go. And though from start to finish it looks different on paper, I am really showing the tiniest shift. 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.
     He says it again. My name.
     “Yes,” I say, answering the question he hasn’t asked yet. “I can help you with the calculus problem.”
     “Thank you,” he says.
     I’m smiling again, and I notice when he looks at me he cocks his head a little like he’s trying to figure me out.
     “What?” I say.
     “Fast friends.”
     “Fast friends?”
     I let myself laugh because I might explode if I don’t.
     “Yes,” he says. “It’s weird we’ve never met before. I think we’re supposed to be friends.”
     Supposed to be.
     “Okay,” I say. “Then let’s be friends.”
     “Fast friends.”
     “Whatever that means, Tate. Fast friends.”
     Talking to Tate is like swimming underwater. Everything silences, and it’s just him and me. But I can’t breathe.
     “Talk after class tomorrow and we’ll sort something out?”
     I can’t breathe but somehow I speak. “Looking forward to it.”
     He smiles.
     I’m toast.


Marissa lies on my bed reading a magazine, her feet resting on my pillow, her long brown-auburn hair hanging off the side in its usual mess of waves. A half-eaten candy bar sits next to her. How can she do that? Eat only half.
     I’m at my desk working on a four-part calculus problem. I have part one and half of part two completed, but I’m not in the zone.
     “Oh my God,” she says. “Turn it up. I love this song.”
     She’s right. The music is good. Really good. Deep, gospel-like singing, severe drums, a choral background. It’s rock and soul, emotional. I lose myself. First, it’s the singer’s voice pulling me into the music and out of my calculus homework. Then, the drums have me tapping my pencil on the desk, bobbing my head with the beat. Finally, the choral background kicks in with the crescendo. Colors, lights, feelings burst and swirl in me. I close my eyes and let the music swallow me. And then the song is over and I look at my half-finished calc problem.
     “Because I can concentrate so much better with the music blaring?” I say. I look past Marissa where my guitar leans against the nightstand. I wonder if I could trim the song down and cover it with just the guitar. I’d have to change the key. Lower.
     Marissa tracks my gaze and props her head in her hands. “Write anything good lately?”
     “I’m almost finished with the song I played for you the other day. It’s not right, though.”
     She sighs, and with a smile she says, “Ade. Always the perfectionist. I thought it was amazing.”
     “It’s not amazing yet.”
     “It will be.” Just like that, Marissa believes in me, unfailingly, ferociously.
     I put my pencil down, hating that my calculus problem is half finished and I’ll have to start from scratch when I get back to it. But I should have known I wouldn’t get much done with Marissa here. She flips the page in her magazine, a history book lying untouched on the floor next to her.
     “Make contact with Josh today?” I ask her.
     “And he’s so . . . uninteresting.”
     “I’m bored. We have to stop doing our thing. It’s so old.”
     I think about Josh and his piercings and his attitude and the way he’s always just there for Marissa, and I say, “Yeah. I get it.” I feel bad for the guy. Josh pales in comparison to Marissa, with her light and love and charisma. He’s a stoner who fails classes and plays video games every spare second. But he’s been home base for Marissa all through high school. He’s the guy she’ll keep returning to because he’s a warm body, and he always wants her. The same cannot be said of her deadbeat dad who left when she was a little girl.
     “So who now?”
     She raises an eyebrow and glances back at her magazine.
     “Missy! Who?” She hates it when people call her Missy, but I do it because we’ve been best friends since forever ago.
     “Lance,” she says, still looking down.
     “Lance? Lance who?”
     “Lance Danson.”
     “Wait, what? I’m confused.” Mr. Danson is an English teacher at our high school. A shaggy-haired, white-button-up-shirt-wearing English teacher with muscular forearms. He incites passion in his students because he cares so much. I had him for English last year.
     “His name is Lance Danson,” she says slowly, enunciating every syllable.
     “As in Mr. Danson?”
     She looks up without raising her chin, her eyes hooded so I can’t read her expression.
     “Huh. Mr. Lance Danson. Seriously? You have a thing for a teacher?”
     She rolls onto her back, looking at me upside down. “I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
     “I’ll bet it’s complicated. He’s, like, a thousand years old.”
     “You know he’s not.” It’s true. I know he’s only twenty-six or twenty-seven.
     “He said I have the eyes of an angel.”
     I choke a little on the soda I’ve been sipping. “He didn’t.”
     Marissa smiles and pulls the hair tie out of her hair.
     “When did Danson talk to you about your eyes?” I say.
     “When I stayed after school yesterday to work on my essay.”
     “Huh. Weird.”
     “Why is that weird? You don’t think I have beautiful eyes?” She flutters her eyelashes at me and puckers her lips. I roll my eyes. In fact, I do think she has beautiful eyes.
     I throw my pencil at her.
     “Dude. Don’t throw shit at me.” She tosses the pencil back and it hits the wall, bouncing off so that I have to duck.
     I toss my hands up in surrender.
     “So you were just, like, what? Leaning over the desk under the guise of working on your essay, and he looks up into those bad boys of yours and says ‘Oh, Marissa, you have the eyes of an angel’?”
     Marissa laughs. “Something like that, cheese ball.”
     I think about Danson and his arms and smile and the way he paces the room when he’s onto an idea. And I understand the attraction there. I do. It seems weird that Danson would tell Marissa she has angel eyes. I wonder if she took it out of context. Either way, Marissa changes love interests daily. I’m sure this will pass.
     “Dude,” I say because something niggles at the back of my mind anyway, “be careful there.”
     She laughs. “Careful is my middle name.” Careful is far from how I’d describe my best friend.
     She goes back to her magazine, perusing the story with the title “I Was in a Relationship with (insert celeb-of-the-week name here)!” She’s not vapid. I’ve heard some of the girls in my AP English class talking about her. I’m sure they were speaking out of jealousy, or if Marissa got to one of their boyfriends. I believe the word they used was vacuous. As though a single one of them has any clue about Marissa. I know her. She’s a mess. She’s wild. She spontaneous. She’s funny. She’s desperate for male attention, and she knows exactly what to do to get it. She’s directionless. But she’s my best friend, and I love her not in spite of all that, but in part because of it.
     “Your turn,” Marissa says. “Spill.”
     I guess we’re done talking about Danson and angel eyes. Which is okay because it weirds me out to think about Danson like that. He’s one of my favorite teachers.
     “Spill what?”
     “There’s something we’re not talking about. I haven’t heard a word about what’s-his-name.”
     “Cody. His name is Cody.”
     “Are we still crushing or have we moved on?”
     “I believe we’ve moved on.” I can’t think of Tate without that stupid smile. A dead giveaway.
     Cody is the senior class’s best-looking lacrosse player. He’s also been in my brother’s circle of friends for the last three years. He’s completely unattainable. He’s nice enough, but I know he doesn’t see me in that way. I’ve been crushing on him for a long time, but somewhere in me I must know it’s not going to happen. Plus, besides his wonderful looks and the fact that he’s sweet, Cody doesn’t seem . . . thoughtful. Like Tate. Or electric, like Tate.
     Marissa turns her attention back to the magazine. She takes another agonizingly slow and small bite of the candy bar. Now she’s on the “Spotted at the Beach!” section of the magazine, one skinny movie star after another clad in nothing but strings. I have the sudden urge to rip the candy bar away from her and scarf the rest in one huge, satisfying bite because, my God, I will never be skinny and I’m so sick of wanting it.
     She’s impassive when she says, “Who is he? Do I know him?”
     “I’m not sure.” I sigh. Out with it. “Tate Newman?”
     She pauses, scanning her brain. “Nope. I don’t think I do. Senior?”
     “Yeah. Yarmulke.”
     “He wears that yarmulke around. You know, the little hat that Jewish guys wear.”
     “Oh yeah. That.” She looks up. “He wears one to school? Seriously?”
     “Yes, seriously.”
     “I don’t know. I guess it means something to him.”
     “Huh. And you like him?”
     “Kinda.” Understatement of the week. “It’s cool he wears the yarmulke. Different. He has earrings, too. I like it.”
     “Huh,” she says again. “So do you think he’s into you?”
     I guess I hadn’t fathomed the possibility.
     “Don’t know.” I’m trying to sound casual when it’s so far from what I feel. Giddy, awkward, sparkly. But casual and cool? Not me right now, or ever, really.

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