The Complicated Calculus (And Cows) of Carl Paulsen – Gary Eldon Peter (Regal House Publishing)

I think I need to read more sweet stories. The current political climate has sharpened my cynicism to an almost painful point, honed daily on the news. So, when I find stories that alleviate that feeling, I don’t believe them at first. Where’s the catch? I wonder. When’s the twist coming? They’re not gonna kill the dog, are they? There are no dogs in the Gary Eldon Peter YA release, The Complicated Calculus (and Cows) of Carl Paulsen, but the titular cows are never really in danger. It’s a gentle, earnest tale worth reading.

Carl Paulsen is a fifteen-year-old son of a new, struggling dairy farmer in southern Minnesota, but his mother’s recent death isn’t his only problem. He also has a crush on also newly arrived city boy Andy Olnan who may or not feel the same way. Meanwhile, Carl’s father is not settling well into being a dairy farmer. The farm was a legacy from his late wife, who wanted to live there before she died. He and Carl are trying hard to honor her wishes, but it just isn’t working. Amidst the clashes with his father and mixed signals from Andy, Carl learns how to survive in a world without certainty.

This is a quiet book. It doesn’t have an edge or feature a bunch of screaming arguments or have some sort of daring element. That’s not to say it’s boring or has no conflict, but the major conflict of Carl’s father and the farm is handled from a place of mutual love and caring, so it’s less harsh but no less involving. The is-he-or-isn’t-he situation with Andy has more teenage angst to be sure, but even that has been dialed back. It’s a book whose virtues are solid and sure, and although the ending is happy, its calm wobble keeps you just off-balance enough to make the ride interesting.

The maternal influence in Carl’s life is one of two minor female characters appearing here. Annie is a girl his father hires to run the household and Cathy becomes Carl’s study partner and best friend and both of them try to keep Carl out of trouble, especially when he and Andy smoke pot (even these scenes are G-rated). Both of the girls, and indeed the whole book, are somewhat quirky yet wholesome. And that’s not a bad thing.

So, The Complicated Calculus (And Cows) Of Carl Paulsen pours you a glass of milk and sits you down in front of a plate of cookies to tell you its story, but it keeps you entertained down to the last crumb.

JW

© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler

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