The Math Olympian – Richard Hoshino

Rating: 9/10

Suitable for: Everyone

The Math Olympian is certainly one of a kind- a book about Olympiad maths, yet it is a fictional novel. The novel spans the three hour paper of the Canadian Mathematical Olympiad, which the protagonist, Bethany, is taking, detailing her thought process while answering the questions and using flashbacks to weave together a picture of her journey.

Hoshino succeeds in creating an engaging, relatable, entertaining and inspiring story of how creativity and persistence can allow you achieve your dreams. Bethany, the main character, is likeable yet imperfect. The hurdles she faces will be familiar to both girls in maths and anyone involved in olympiad maths. Bethany has to deal with being in a male dominated environment and with the various challenges that are part of olympiad maths.

I really liked how Hoshino described some of the difficulties young people who are training for maths olympiads face. Bethany learns to deal with failure, a vital lesson that mathematical olympiads teach you but a difficult one to learn. Other challenges Bethany faces include self-doubt, bullying and not fitting in.

Bethany’s love of learning and mathematics is infectious. Hoshino portrays mathematics as the subject it is, full of creativity, innovation, problem solving and beauty, relevant in every aspect of life. It illustrates how different maths is from how it is often perceived, dull, dry and boring, like it usually is in school.

From a mathematics point of view, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of how Bethany solved the problems. It reminded me of the Thinking Out Loud articles from Hoshino himself solved these problems when he was training for mathematical olympiads, so the accounts are authentic, hence believable. The solutions are well explained, I had no trouble understanding them and I think that most people who have experience with school maths could get the main ideas of the problems.

My only criticism is I felt that Hoshino gave a bit too much attention to the issue of faith. For me it seemed a bit irrelevant to the rest of the storyline and too much time was spent on it. At first it was interesting but it drew on a bit, becoming a distraction and detracting from the book as a whole. This is only a minor issue that I personally didn’t really like but it didn’t have a large impact on my overall enjoyment of the book.

Overall The Maths Olympian is an insightful, inspiring and entertaining book that I would highly recommend. A must read for any young people (especially girls) who are interested in maths!


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