by Toni Jordan
If you were to ask me how many words there are in Toni Jordan’s satisfying debut novel Addition, I’d check the number of pages, count the number of lines on enough pages and the number of words on enough lines to get reasonably accurate averages, and then multiply the three numbers. The answer (say, 272 pages, by about 30 lines per page, by about 11 words per line equals about 90,000 words) would, in my view, be close enough for all practical purposes. If you were to ask Grace Lisa Vandenburg, who tells her own story in Addition (Morrow, 2009), that same question, whatever your practical purpose, she would not be happy (or comfortable) with “all practical purposes.” Instead, she would count every word on every page, coming up with the exact number.
Grace has long been obsessed with counting – even as a child, her favorite toy was not her Barbie doll, but a set of Cuisenaire rods. Her hero is inventor Nikola Tesla, whose life was also consumed by his love of numbers and counting. She’s been forced to give up her teaching job because she cannot stop herself from counting, whether it be the number of steps from her bed to the bathroom (25), the number of books on each shelf in her bookcase (30), or the number of slices she cuts each onion (10) and carrot (10) into for her dinner. Grace believes in sticking to the rules she’s set up for herself. She says: “Who knows what could happen if I start making arbitrary decisions and upset the synchronized pattern of the universe?” But sometimes a spanner in the works disrupts the orderliness of the universe – and into Grace’s ever so ordered life comes Seamus Joseph O’Reilly (whose name has 19 letters, just like Grace’s), who encourages her to overcome her “quirk” with the help of a therapist, and live a more normal life – with him. Jordan has given us a sympathetic and realistic picture of a young woman struggling to remain herself, even when that self is not deemed by society to be precisely normal. Grace’s voice is what drew me into Addition and kept me reading – I cared about her dilemma and wanted for her what she wanted for herself – to be happy.