Beyond Infinity: A MatheMattical Adventure by Charles Ames Fischer
Suggested Audience: Upper elementary, middle school, high school
(out of 5)
Beyond Infinity: A MatheMattical Adventure is Charles Ames Fischer’s first novel, and it tells the story of a group of students who make a series of incredible discoveries about the temporary home of their high school (which has been relocated due to renovations). One discovery leads to another and the two main characters find themselves on more of an adventure than they bargained for. There’s intrigue, danger, excitement, humor, and even a little bit of romance, and woven through it all is the motif of mathematics.
Fischer seems to be going after two goals in writing this book: Penning an exciting fantasy adventure novel, and exploring some fascinating aspects of numbers. In fact, his success at the first depends in large part on the reader’s ability to appreciate the second. The story is told from the point of view of high school senior Matthew Forsythe, who sees “the world in terms of numbers.” As he describes it, “People have their distractions and for me it has always been numbers, how they relate to each other, how they describe things in the world around us. Those thoughts keep expanding and unfolding until there are really cool things to think about.”
Students who enjoy thinking about numbers in creative ways will find a lot to enjoy in this book, and will most certainly be presented with some new and fascinating ideas. Students looking for an adventure novel who aren’t quite that interested in math may find that they are tempted skip over passages, as Matt regularly expounds, for pages at a time, upon interesting features of everyday numbers. These seeming digressions are actually at the heart of what the book is all about, though, and if the “more reluctant” reader takes the time to think through these passages, s/he just might find a new appreciation for numbers developing!
In addition to the well-written mini-lessons on everything from the history of mathematics to prime numbers to the Fibonacci sequence to the Golden Ratio, Matthew has to solve a series of math and logic puzzles, and listening in as he works through a number of unsuccessful attempts before hitting upon solutions is a lesson itself in problem solving.
It occurred to me a number of times as I read this book that it was written by a teacher, and I mean that in a very positive way. Fischer introduces the reader to a wide variety of interesting mathematical concepts in easily understandable ways, and I think that, in the end, he is successful in his efforts to engender an appreciation for numbers, or to deepen one that already exists. As Kelsie, one of the main characters, says to Matt during a discussion of the relationships between the names of numbers and the quantities represented by those numbers, “That’s so cool! I didn’t think numbers could be fun to think about!” I’m sure that many readers of this book will have similar realizations at some point along the way, and combine that with the fact that it’s also a fun adventure and I’m already looking forward to his next offering!