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).
In doing research for Love and Other Unknown Variables, I came across an interesting study that showed how our brains respond similarly to certain “beautiful” math problems just as they would a piece of music or art. It was one more piece of evidence proving math and art are more interrelated than I’d ever thought they could be.
This realization led me to write this scene for Charlie and Charlotte so they could begin to see not just how they differ, but the similarities they share. In this short excerpt, Charlotte has shown Charlie her book of sketches in an attempt to be more open with him.
Charlotte takes a deep breath that hitches as it travels up her spine like it’s catching on snags along the way. “I’m not used to sharing. It’s always been easiest to keep things close.”
I want to know what things she’s keeping so close. I want her to unpack them from inside herself, perhaps making room for…what? For me? This is ludicrous. I should hand her back her sketches and walk away.
I push my own notebook toward her instead. “It’s only fair.”
She chuckles and glances down at the open page. “What’s this?” Her voice is soft beside me. She’s pointing at the problem I was working on moments ago. In it, I’ve had to use the symbol for infinity, but I drew her tattoo instead. I didn’t even realize I’d done it.
“Trying to figure me out, Mr. Hanson? Think you’ll get extra credit?”
“I—” I’ve got nothing to say. I stare at the symbol I’ve drawn with the word hope bound up in its endlessness. There are many ideas in mathematics that we know are true, even if we’ll never be able to solve them. Too many. They’re the paradoxes that make math so beautiful.
Charlotte feels like that. Like a problem I’ll never really figure out, but that I know is just right for me.
She leans her shoulder into mine. “You and me, Charlie, we’re on the same team—both artists. We just work with different mediums.”
Charlie’s brain definitely lights up when he sees a beautiful math problem. Do you have a favorite math equation or scientific theory? How about a piece of music or art that moves you?
About the Author