The Writing on the Wall
Author: Wendy Lichtman
Pages: 216
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins/Greenwillow Books/2008
ISBN: 978-0061229589
Age Levels: 9-13

Book Review

In this sequel to Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, Tess and her friends are back in school from winter break. The second semester is not off to a good start. There is a mysterious fire in the computer lab the first week back, and Richard, Tess’s nemesis, continues to bully her. His pranks, such as tearing pages from her English journal and stealing her backpack are not only annoying, but making her look like a slacker to her teachers.

It seems the only good thing in Tess’s school life is algebra class—a subject she loves. Algebra is logical; it makes sense. One can find solutions by looking for patterns and using formulas. Indeed, Tess has taken to using math as a metaphor as she negotiates the ups and downs of her middle-school existence.

When some mathematical graffiti shows up on the wall of the church behind her school, Tess becomes obsessed with solving the code. With the help of her grandfather, she realizes the tagger (the person who created the graffiti) has written ARSON. Could this somehow be related to the computer lab fire? Tess decides to communicate with the tagger.

Using paint sticks and a coded math formula, Tess asks "Where?” When the tagger responds with the room number of the computer lab, Tess decides to investigate. What she finds, ultimately, is that things—and people—are not always what they first appear, and the "hard part about the kind of problems you have in real life . . . is that there are no formulas."

The Writing on the Wall is wonderfully appealing. Tess is a well-drawn, likable character that middle schoolers will relate to. The setting and situations are realistic and spot-on. Lichtman has cleverly woven together the stuff of algebra (variables, factorization, symbols) and the stuff of middle-school life (friendships, drama, finding one’s place in the world) into a highly readable, unique story.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2008 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com

About the Author

Wendy Lichtman writes personal essays for the Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Good Housekeeping, among other national publications. She has also written four previous young adult novels, including Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra. She holds a degree in mathematics and has tutored public-school students in algebra for several years. When she decided to write about a teenage girl who realizes that some questions have more than one right answer, algebra, with its unknowns and variables, seemed a perfect metaphor. She lives in Berkeley, California. Be sure to visit the author's website.