Be forewarned. Once you pick up “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” by bestselling author Stuart Gibbs, you won’t be able to put it down until the last page is over, and you’re reading the acknowledgements. Really.
You’ll be hooked from the very first page, which is the Prologue in which Albert Einstein is dying, leaving behind not only his theory of relativity, but something called Pandora, an equation which could change the world.
The action then moves to Langley, VA, in CIA headquarters, where an agent is trying to convince the director that a twelve-year-old girl is the answer to their problems. The pre-teen is not just anyone, but Charlie Thorne, whose IQ almost rivals Einstein’s. The CIA is desperately trying to find where Einstein hid Pandora, which is a equation that would make it easy to create nuclear weapons but which could also create clean energy. The CIA is desperate to get it before it gets into the wrong hands, and they have learned that a white supremacist group is hot on the trail.
Dante Garcia, the CIA agent, believes that Charlie Thorne, who stole millions from a large corporation (which had stolen from her first), could be the only one to figure out where the secret might be. After all, agents have been working on it for decades since Einstein’s death and have not come close.
In the second chapter, the reader meets Charlie for the first time. She is at Snowmass Mountain in Colorado. She has skipped her college courses because she doesn’t need to attend class to pass her courses with ease, and she has convinced some older students, who can drive, to go with her skiing. Now she is at the top of Deadman’s Drop, an illegal run that is dangerous and deadly. It ends in a cliff with a fifty-foot drop. Charlie plans to ski it.
But unbeknownst to her, Dante Garcia and Milana Moon, the latter the only CIA agent who will be helping him on this case, are waiting for her. What follows is pure unadulterated thrills and action nonstop as the three of them — two agents and Charlie — race around the world to try to be the first to find Einstein’s Pandora.
Charlie’s antics are fabulous and Gibbs creates a twelve-year-old protagonist who is believably arrogant, brilliant, kind-hearted, and childish. She can speak several languages, perform advanced mathematical calculations in her head, read people’s facial expressions, and stick out her tongue when the occasion calls for it. She’s often frightened (and with reason) but also brave. She’s a delightful main character and as the story progresses, we come to admire and like her more and more.
The burning question throughout the story is what will happen if the United States gets the equation. After all, Charlie points out to the two agents after they threaten her with imprisonment for her theft if she doesn’t help them, any country that gets Einstein’s secret equation will use it to create weapons, not provide clean energy and solve global warming. She explains using the stirrup as an analogy. It’s brilliant and certainly had me learning about history and global warfare.
Another fabulous touch are the quotes that Gibbs chooses to include from Albert Einstein. “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” and “You never fail until you stop trying” (a favorite of teachers and growth mindset advocates). But the best, and perhaps most apropos quote is, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” I’d love to read this book with a group of fifth or sixth graders. I can imagine the fabulous discussions that would arise about who could be trusted with an equation like the fictional one in this story. And an in-depth discussion of the three Einstein quotes that are on the pages at the start of the three sections of the story would be fascinating, too.
Because this is the first book in a new series, there is a cliffhanger ending. Kids will be anxiously waiting for the second book because they will love this story! One excellent fifth grade reader told me, with a huge grin on his face, that this was the BEST book he’s ever read. High praise coming from this voracious reader!
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Simon & Schuster, the publisher, for review purposes.