a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Unknowns: A Mystery (2009)
Benedict Carey
Highly Rated!

A novel for middle school children which aims to teach mathematical concepts as the young protagonists try to solve the mystery of the disappearances in their neighborhood.

Contributed by Nancy

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Lady Di and Tom and quirky, enjoyable characters and are surrounded by a good supporting cast. The math is central to the mystery, and, quite frankly, was challenging (I took these classes a long time ago!). I got a chuckle out of the Rene D and Pascal characters as well. A clever attempt by the author, but I'm not sure how many middle school students will pick this up. (I am a middle school librarian).

Contributed by Pendred Noyce (author of Lost in Lexicon)

Two kids, residents of the trailer-park island Adjacent, stuck between a trash heap and a nuclear power plant, try to figure out why residents of the town have gone missing. These kids are "unknowns" who don't count and sometimes aren't even seen, but once they start applying the problem-solving lessons taught them by the missing woman who used to help them with their homework, they start finding math clues, unlikely friends, and unexpected bravery.

Solving the problem of what's going on in adjacent requires algebra, cave exploration, geometry, rock-climbing skills, and neighborhood solidarity. Middle school level math is integral to the plot. Is it contrived? Yes, a bit, but it's also enjoyable. There are great characters here, from the spacey and visionary Tom Jones, to the determined Di to the various traumatized and outcast teens who join them to overcome Mr. Pink and his predatory security guards. Key to solving the mystery is the discovery that kids are a lot more than their reputation and the problem-solving tenets and approaches of Polya (Adjacent's general store carries his name) and others.

This book is for kids around 8-14 who like great characters and kids who like to puzzle out solutions or just to follow along as someone else puzzles them out.

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Works Similar to The Unknowns: A Mystery
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Pendred Noyce
  2. The Wright 3 by Blue Balliet
  3. The Number Devil [Der Zahlenteufel] by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
  4. Pythagoras Eagle & the Music of the Spheres by Anne Carse Nolting
  5. Odd Squad by Tim McKeon / Adam Peltzman
  6. The Magic Two-Horn by Sergey Pavlovich Bobrov
  7. Three Days in Karlikania by Vladimir Levshin
  8. Crimes and Math Demeanors by Leith Hathout
  9. A Little Mathematician - Katie by Tadashi Miura
  10. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka / Lane Smith (illustrator)
Ratings for The Unknowns: A Mystery:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
5/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (3 votes)

GenreMystery, Didactic, Children's Literature, Young Adult,
TopicReal Mathematics,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)