Ten year old Darby Ell is brilliant at mathematics, but not so good at being liked. Intrigued by the “thingamabob conjecture” his aunt Ludy discovered just before she went bananas, he becomes obsessed with proving it. As he works on it, the mathematical construct, which calls itself Bob, starts to communicate and interact with him, and even takes on substance. At first, Bob seems friendly to Darby, but Bob’s need for truth, order and beauty takes on a sinister tone as it begins to alter an imperfect reality. Darby’s older sister Livey is having math worries of her own- she’s flunking algebra, and about to get kicked off the cheerleading squad. Luckily, Darby and Livey have guardian angels, of a sort. Aether is Darby’s companion as he travels through Hilbert space and hyperdimensions looking for a way to control Bob, and Johnny guides and protects Livey as she searches for her lost brother.
Nothing is quite as it seems in Monster’s Proof. There’s more to Darby than math, and there’s more depth to Livey’s character than one might expect from a cheerleader. The book often says that math is truth, but while Bob might be truthful, he isn’t trustworthy- he is selfish and manipulative. Other characters may be flawed, or have “messy” relationships, but there’s the possibility of redemption in the love that they share. Echoes of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time resonate through Monster’s Proof, in particular a moment near the end where Darby’s mother has to identify the “real” Darby, but it’s clear that Lewis’ intent is much different, and his tone is much darker. Lewis also uses humor throughout the book, not just as a device, but as a way to move the story forward. He had me cheering for mathematically challenged Livey at the end! Since Livey and Darby are both point-of-view characters, Monster’s Proof may appeal to both genders. It’s worth a sell to teenage girls, who might pass it over because of the cover or title. Not only does Livey defeat a mathematical demon(something I wish I’d been able to do in algebra), but her romance with Johnny is reminiscent of Bella and Edward’s. Boys will enjoy a fast-paced read that involves NSA plots, tearing around hyperdimensions with a fractal sword, a conspiracy to take over the world, and an underdog coming out on top. With this book, libraries have a chance to make room on the shelf for something a little different from the endless parade of YA vampire novels. Recommended especially for middle and high school library media centers.
Review by Kirsten Kowalewski