Kaetrin reviewed this book a few weeks ago and it sounded interesting and unique, so I bought it. I’m glad I read it. For the most part I found it entertaining, and it has stayed with me after I finished it. But I also keep having more and more issues with it, so this review will be mixed at best.
Grace’s life depends on number. It’s obvious to the reader that she suffers from some type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, even if she doesn’t admit it. Yet she’s quite frank about how numbers dominate her day and how she has rearranged her life to fit all the numbers in it.
Counting, mathematics, weird trivia and numbers rule her life, but she’s comfortable and somewhat happy with it, because they also ground her. There are certain longings and thoughts that sneak in and wreak mini havocs at times, but she’s very good at keeping them at bay, so it’s hard to tell whether she’s miserable, content or happy.
What we can tell is that Grace is her own person, and that numbers don’t define who she is. In fact, I didn’t even find her a sympathetic character. She’s not particularly nice to her mother or to her sister, and of her remaining family members she only likes one of her nieces, mostly because she projects herself onto her.
But when she meets Seamus and they quickly develop a relationship, she begins to pay attention to all those longings and thoughts, and suddenly considers changing her life so that Seamus can fit in it. The results are not that good.
The overall tone of the book is light and quirky. I wouldn’t call it a comedy, because it has plenty of darker undertones, but if I had to put a label to it, I would say that it fits well under Chick-Lit. It’s narrated entirely from Grace’s POV, and she has a very convoluted mind, so more than half the book is a random litany of number-related trivia, and another chunk of it is about Nikola Tesla, Grace’s hero. So there are a lot of things to learn in this book, but when it comes to the important lessons, I’m not sure that it gets it right.
The romance plays a prominent role in the book, and Seamus was a good hero, but Grace is self-absorbed and not that observant, so Seamus’ intentions and feelings only manifest themselves when he stays by her side during some rough situations. But as sweet as the romance was, I didn’t understand why they were together. What did he see in her? What did she see in him? Were they really in love, or was it need and loneliness? I’m not sure I have the answers to all these questions. But the ending is happy, at least in terms of the romance.
As I said before, the more I think about the book, the more issues I find. This next part will be spoilery, so look away if you don’t want to know. Grace, urged by Seamus, goes to therapy and starts taking medication. Therapy isn’t particularly successful, and the medications make her foggy and change her personality. She stops counting, but she doesn’t become more functional and her relationships rapidly deteriorate. But then she goes off the meds, gets her obsession back, her family accept her for who she is, and Seamus even apologizes for the part he played in all of it. It was uncomfortable to read, because I’m not an expert, and I know that some medications have serious effects on people, but it felt like the second half of the book was an anti-medication propaganda, and I’m not sure I agree with it.
Mental illness has a stigma, and it’s either portrayed in a negative way or played for laughs. Grace’s disorder made her unique and special, but the moment she takes medication she becomes insignificant and average. It was too extreme, and now that we’re fighting to have a serious conversation about mental illness, this book bothered ne. Perhaps it was the wrong time to read it, but I don’t agree with the way it ended, and it left me with a bitter aftertaste that has done nothing but increase ever since I finished the book.
That being said, I liked the risk the author took with such a different heroine, and I very much enjoyed her voice. I can’t recommend Addition, but I’m more than willing to give the author another chance, because her talent is undeniable.
Review by Brie
Everything counts . . .
Grace Lisa Vandenburg orders her world with numbers: how many bananas she buys, how many steps she takes to the café, where she chooses to sit, how many poppy seeds are in her daily piece of orange cake. Every morning she uses 100 strokes to brush her hair, 160 strokes to brush her teeth. She remembers the day she started to count, how she used numbers to organize her adolescence, her career, even the men she dated. But something went wrong. Grace used to be a teacher, but now she's surviving on disability checks. According to the parents of one of her former students, "she's mad."
Most people don't understand that numbers rule, not just the world in a macro way but their world, their own world. Their lives. They don't really understand that everything and everybody are connected by a mathematical formula. Counting is what defines us . . . the only thing that gives our lives meaning is the knowledge that eventually we all will die. That's what makes each minute important. Without the ability to count our days, our hours, our loved ones . . . there's no meaning. Our lives would have no meaning. Without counting, our lives are unexamined. Not valued. Not precious. This consciousness, this ability to rejoice when we gain something and grieve when we lose something—this is what separates us from other animals. Counting, adding, measuring, timing. It's what makes us human.
Grace's father is dead and her mother is a mystery to her. Her sister wants to sympathize but she really doesn't understand. Only Hilary, her favorite niece, connects with her. And Grace can only connect with Nikola Tesla, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century inventor whose portrait sits on her bedside table and who rescues her in her dreams. Then one day all the tables at her regular café are full, and as she hesitates in the doorway a stranger—Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (19 letters in his name, just like Grace's)—invites her to sit with him. Grace is not the least bit sentimental. But she understands that no matter how organized you are, how many systems you put in place, you can't plan for people. They are unpredictable and full of possibilities—like life itself, a series of maybes and what-ifs.
And suddenly, Grace may be about to lose count of the number of ways she can fall in love.
Addition by Toni Jordan
William Morrow. February 3, 2009.