~written by Hiroshi Yuki
~translated by Tony Gonzalez
Math Girls began as a series of stories that the author, Hiroshi Yuki, posted on his website. After receiving a good deal of positive feedback and encouragement to release Math Girls as a book, the novel was published in Japan in 2007. It went on to become a bestseller and the first in a series. There has even been a manga adaptation. In 2011, Math Girls as translated by Tony Gonzalez was the first book to be released by the newly established Japanese literature publisher Bento Books. Math Girls will appeal to those who already love mathematics. It's been a long time since I've seriously studied the subject (AP Calculus, way back in high school), but I do enjoy it. If the sigma notation on the cover makes you want to run away in terror, then Math Girls is probably not for you. On the other hand, if it makes you grin a little (or maybe roll your eyes depending on how much of a romantic you happen to be), Math Girls is probably worth seeking out.
Math Girls follows an unnamed second-year high school student (equivalent to an eleventh-grader) who enjoys playing around with math whenever he can get a chance. In part because of his love for math, he attracts the attention of two very different girls: Miruka, whose knowledge of math and natural brilliance exceeds even his own, and Tetra, who is only beginning to truly understand math but who is earnest in her efforts. For better or for worse, the complexities of mathematics are nothing compared to the complexities of relationships. He agrees to tutor Tetra in math; she wants to learn, but she also has other motives for spending time with him. On the other hand, Miruka is constantly showing him a thing or two about mathematics and can be a bit possessive. Mathematics is important to all three students and it is through math that they become important to each other.
The protagonist's love of math, and thereby the author's love as well, is apparent from the very start of Math Girls. Couched in a light romance, the math is really the heart of the novel. Flipping through the book might be daunting for some readers as very few pages are without some sort of graph, formula, or math problem. I do agree with Yuki's note at the beginning of the book: skip over the math if you need to, but try to follow what you can. It's worth it and is actually part of the story. I found myself learning a few things as I read and was reminded of how much I delighted in math. However, some of the problems can be quite advanced. I probably wouldn't recommend Math Girls to most readers who haven't had at least some precalculus, advanced algebra, or trigonometry although some of the math included is below that level.
Mathematics is often compared to a spoken language in Math Girls which is entirely appropriate. Math can be used as a form of expression. In fact, the protagonist of Math Girls frequently describes his feelings in the terms of the language he loves and knows best--mathematics. The execution of this is both brilliant and effective. Math Girls provides a fun and engaging way to learn and review mathematical concepts. It may very well be the only novel that I've read that contains an index. Yuki has also included an annotated list of recommended readings, many of which are available in English. I'm not sure that Math Girls will necessarily win mathematics any new fans, but the characters' joy as they explore and discover new and old ideas is infectious. If you already love math, there is a good chance that you will love Math Girls. To paraphrase Tetra, I may not have understood half of it, but what I did understand was wonderful.