Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-nine authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Harriet Reuter Hapgood is a freelance journalist who has worked with Marie Claire, ELLE, and InStyle in the U.K. Her debut novel, The Square Root Of Summer, was inspired by her German mathematician grandfather and her lifelong obsession with YA romance, which includes an MA thesis on Dawson’s Creek from London College of Fashion, and a dissertation on romantic comedies at Newcastle University. She lives in Brighton, England.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramTumblrGoodreads

I wanted to write a concise, lucid essay on Lennie Walker from Jandy Nelson’s 2010 debut, The Sky Is Everywhere. Summing up my admiration in a clear argument, neatly structured. Then, like Lennie’s clarinet faceplant, where she honks out all her emotions “in one mad bleating typhoon of a note”, my thoughts sprawled on the page, as foggy and elliptical as grief.

Maybe I love her too much to be coherent.

Maybe she’s me – the sidekick, the companion pony, the one with words and dreams locked inside her.

Or maybe it’s that grief is incoherent, and I spend the most time with Lennie whenever I have been, as she puts it, “a wee bit preoccupied with the bat in my belfry”. (Lennie is grieving for the death of her older sister Bailey, an electric-charismatic-beautiful actress who dies of sudden heart arrhythmia, pregnant, at nineteen.) I read this book, crawl into Lennie’s poetic world, whenever I am “out of my tree and running through the park”.

So maybe I can’t untangle my thoughts about Lennie – soulful, funny, poetry-writing Lennie, who lies down on forest floors and hollers out of attic windows, dubs her orange bedroom The Inner Pumpkin Sanctum and has a thing for saints and miracles – from my crazy spaghetti-brain emotions.

Lennie reads Wuthering Heights so often it cleaves to her body, sand in its dog-eared pages, covers tattered and falling off. And I read Lennie’s story over and over, a comfort blanket. I picked it up on a whim in a WHSmith in south London, based on the title, the cover, the softback elastic-bound edition from Walker Books. Interspersed between chapters are poems that Lennie writes and discards, and this edition has them illustrated in full colour. That was the year my grandmother had a stroke, and I fell into Lennie’s world rather than live in my own.

I read it again when my grandmother died in 2012, falling in love with lilacs and clarinets and sunsets and northern California. I read it again-again a few months after that, when I got dumped by Twitter DM, howling over Bailey’s death and their missing mother and sad, skateboarding Toby. And again two weeks later, when a private, terrible thing happened. It is solace, it is medicine, it is a book about rediscovering the world, and yourself, when you no longer know who you are.

I like Lennie’s brain. How she describes her surroundings – the sun has “burst into millions of pieces, which have landed all over Main Street”. I like the prosaic (a summer job lasagne-making at the deli, chemistry homework with the scent of Grams’ chicken fricassee and mmm, books with food) and the extraordinary (her sister Bailey’s word, but Lennie claims it, her grief vast as a continent and she pinballing inside it, behaving badly).

And oh boy, does Lennie behave badly.

She cheats on her miraculously eyelashed boyfriend Joe Fontaine. With her dead sister’s fiancé! She’s not the best of friends to Sarah, who mourns for Bailey herself, reads books on grief, and stays in constant contact with Lennie despite rejection. Lennie is hateful to Grams. Rude and silent, she chops down her beloved roses and says things like, “I’ll do it, Gram [pack up Bailey’s things], if you stop stalking me and leave me alone”. Ouch.

I can’t judge her – grief is isolating, makes you behave strangely – but I should note her imperfections. Flaws that make her a real 17-year-old. Her band rival Rachel is unpleasant, sure, but the shades of slut-shaming in her description of Rachel leaving boys as “band-kill in her wake” or the unfeminist nickname “Bitchzilla” aren’t kind. Once, she uses the word “retard”; casually, dismissively, a blink of an eye. An accurate depiction of a teenager, uncomfortable to read, I hope she regrets her use of it, grows up.

Even so, I adore her. Writing her thoughts on her jeans with a finger. Calling Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights a “total freaking boner boy”. Playing clarinet endlessly. Chopping up her favourite book with garden shears. On idiot duty stuffing cannolis. Running with “private raucous happiness”, rediscovering the world and that there can be happiness, joy, life, even after pain.

I said I read this book whenever I am out of my tree, whenever there are bats in my belfry. The last such time I read it was no exception. I didn’t have my colourfully illustrated beautiful copy; all my books were hastily packed into expensive, yet damp, storage; for reasons both complicated and mundane and all-too-common, and which I am not yet brave enough to detail. So it was a not-that-good Kindle edition, formatted with errors, that I wrapped myself up in – and I’ve never found ebooks lending themselves well to poetry. But the formatting didn’t matter.

Because an extraordinary girl, Lennon “Lennie” Walker, saved me – with love, with joy, with a belief in the world still being dazzling after pain, a raw-honest-wide-open heart and optimism about love. She saved me with lasagnes and music and pot plants and hilarity. (And, yeah, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.) Made me feel like maybe, I could fly.

I mentioned this essay would be incoherent, right?

Title The Square Root Of Summer
Author Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Pages 304 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Romance, Time Travel
Published May 3rd, 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Gottie H. Oppenheimer is…seventeen. Motherless. A math genius. And she’s losing time. Literally.

When the fabric of the universe surrounding Gottie’s sleepy seaside town begins to fray, she is hurtled through wormholes to her past:

To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died.

To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral.

To the day her childhood best friend Thomas moved to Canada, leaving her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.

Although Grey is still gone, this summer Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide – and be changed forever.

With time travel, quantum physics, and world-stopping kisses, this stunning YA debut is an exponentially enthralling story about love, loss, and figuring it all out.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!