Hot X: Algebra Exposed - Review

Hot X: Algebra Exposed by Danica McKellar
Publication date: 3 August 2010
ISBN 10/13: 1594630704 / 9781594630705
Penguin Group USA

Category: Math
Format: Hardcover
Keywords: Math, girls, empowerment, enrichment, study aids

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How I found out about this book: I read Danica McKellar's first two books, Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math. I love math, and Winnie Cooper. When I found out she was signing at Vroman's in Pasadena I was even more thrilled about her new book!

Quickie: Struggling with Algebra? Girl or boy--for that matter, teen or adult--this book explains all that alge-blah-blahbity-blah without "dumbing down" or going way over your head. Sure, it's cutesy at times--it was written primarily with a teen girl audience in mind. But you'll learn the math, and that's what matters.

My review: I really love how McKellar addresses math anxiety. For that alone, I would recommend that everyone who is not already a math genius read this book. Hot X covers everything from factoring, functions, linear and quadratic equations, graphing, exponents, square roots, polynomials, and my favorite: word problems. All along the author encourages and cajoles the reader into enjoying themselves as they solve for the elusive x.

And yet, this book isn't just about math. Interspersed with exercises and mathematical advice are success stories from other smart women like the author, who is a tv-actress turned mathematician. Even the seemingly silly personality quizzes are aimed at eliciting awareness and addressing issues like self-esteem, frustration, and stress. McKellar's sister Crystal writes a short piece that provokes thought about the relationship between domestic violence and financial dependence, and how attaining a higher level of education can spare young women the pain and suffering of spousal abuse.

During her speech at Vroman's, McKellar talked about the stereotypes imposed on women not just by others, but by themselves. She spoke passionately about breaking these stereotypes so that more girls and women can discover that they are more skilled in the maths and sciences than they thought. I find it baffling that she still has to say this--I've been hearing the same thing my whole life--and yet it's true that society to this day sends the wrong messages, and not just to girls: that math and science is too hard to understand; that we're no good at it, so why even bother.

I feel very lucky to have been raised by a family and teaching community that encouraged and applauded my efforts to excel in math. I remember being thoroughly disgruntled by fractions and multiplication in 4th grade.  Every day when I burst into tears over my math homework, my grandfather would yell, "DFTP!*" (Don't Fight the Problem!) and make me talk through problems until I got the concept down and could apply it to any problem of the same type. After a semester of struggling, my most hated class and teacher (Mrs. Garcia!) became one of my most beloved, and I've never looked back. (Well, okay--I also like English, biology, art, and a bunch of other subjects, but that's a much longer post for another day.)

Eternal gratitude to my math teachers: Mr. Barlik (basic math), Mr. Kaplan (pre-Algebra/algebra), Mrs. Koch (geometry), Mr. Good (algebra II/trigonometry), Mrs. Frost (math analysis), and Mr. Russell (statistics... though, to be frank, he didn't teach me anything I didn't already know... he was super-cute, though :).

If I get approved to transfer to university soon, I'll be taking the next math class--yes, calculus--just for fun!


*Not to be confused with DFTBA.

Who should read this book: If you're still waiting for that Eureka! moment to hit you while staring at a page of polynomials or factoring equations, this is the book for you. If you don't even know what I just said, you need to go back a book or two. You need to have mastered more basic skills before moving on.

According to the author, next up: Geometry! I can't wait.

My photo with the author didn't come out very well (it's difficult to get a good signing line photo when there's so many people waiting) so I resorted to adding my Flat Alethea (yes, I got a haircut since last time) drawn in the style of Oliver Jeffers. Photo taken by my husband.

Hot X is Danica McKellar's 3rd book.

Find the author at, on Twitter @danicamckellar

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