Book Review: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

“Maybe he was very sad, and none of us could see it. That can happen, but…” He frowned. “There was always more going on with Isaac that he let on. Don’t you agree, Hazel?”

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy opens with the title’s namesake setting up a breakfast table for two in anticipation of his expected demise. With simple intention, Isaac awaits what he has predicted—his death—though the method and means remain unknown.

Flash forward to Isaac’s funeral where we meet the remainder of the Severy clan, particularly his adopted grandchildren Hazel and Gregory who, along with their mathematician uncle Philip, become the narrators that flesh out the entirety of the story. It is through Gregory and Philip that we begin to learn about the drama and secrets that live within the walls of the various Severy households, but it is through Hazel and the task set upon her, that we begin to fully understand her grandfather, and the pure genius of his mathematical inclination.

Following his passing, Hazel receives a typewritten letter from Isaac demanding she carry on his mathematical legacy and also destroy any remains of his work lest it falls into the wrong hands. A bookseller lacking even the barest of mathematical talent, Hazel is distraught by the weight of these demands, but she is determined to honor Isaac who had provided love and security in her youth.

Almost immediately, her shiver of delight at having cracked her grandfather’s puzzle turned to a small, quaking fear. Now that she could see Isaac was leading her somewhere, how could she let go of his hand?

The story continues to alternate between the affairs and obsessions of the Severy siblings and their adopted nephew and Hazel’s quest, which becomes ever the more urgent as clues are unveiled and another death hits close to home. It isn’t long before each string of the story becomes woven together and previously separate narratives become intricately bound—setting the foundation for a smart, compelling conclusion.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is a unique blend of rich family drama, flawed and relatable characters and clever mystery with a touch of dark humor that further elevates this debut novel.

She had wasted so much time, but at last she knew what her grandfather had intended for her to do. All along, the equation had been waiting patiently for her to show up, to hold out her hand and ask for it. She wondered how many things in life could be ours if we only knew whom to ask. Ask. She took a deep breath, grabbed hold of the door latch, and swung herself inside the cabin.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Touchstone Books

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