This reading group guide for The Love Proof includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Madeleine Henry. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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In The Love Proof
, a brilliant physics prodigy studying the nature of time embarks on a journey to prove that those we love are always connected to us.
Sophie Jones is on track to unlock the secrets of the universe. But when she meets Jake Kristopher during their first week at Yale, they instantly feel a deep connection, as if they’ve known each other before. Quickly, they become a couple. Slowly, their love lures Sophie away from school.
When a shocking development forces Sophie into a new reality, she returns to physics to make sense of her world. She grapples with life’s big questions, including how to cope with unexpected change and loss. Inspired by her connection with Jake, Sophie throws herself into her studies, determined to prove that true loves belong together in all realities.Questions for Discussion
1. The epigraph of this novel focuses on the power of connection. How does this theme recur throughout the novel? How do these words set up what is to come? After having finished the novel, has your perspective on connection changed?
2. Early on, Professor Malchik describes Sophie’s talent to his son using a video game metaphor, explaining that he is coaching her even though she hasn’t played the game because “you know, really know, that with your help, she’ll not only pass the highest level you’ve ever seen, she will win the game” (p. 7). Reflect on Professor Malchik and Sophie’s relationship. As a coach, does he succeed at helping her win this game? Why or why not?
3. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on Sophie’s and Jake’s early lives. How are they similar? How are they different? How do their backgrounds bring them together and influence their trajectories throughout the novel?
4. In part one, Sophie is often described in childlike terms. She’s small and loves candy (p. 66). Why do you think this is? What does it say about her character?
5. By the end of freshman year, Jake has an internship in finance and Sophie has decided to work at Free People, saying she’s taken a retail job to free her mind for larger questions, but she notes internally that “the truth was that she cared less and less about the questions that used to keep her up at night: What really controls us? What plucks the strings of the universe? What is the real power of love?” (p. 105). How does the progression of Jake and Sophie’s relationship draw her away from her studies and previous interests? What reaction did you have to this revelation?
6. When Sophie meets Lionel Padington for the first time, she announces that “‘the least understood, most important thing in the world is love.’” (p. 113). Jake finds himself unsettled and embarrassed by Sophie’s words to his mentor, and he notes that their relationship has changed her. How does this scene change Jake’s perception of Sophie?
7. Shortly after graduation and after founding Olympus Capital, Jake blindsides Sophie by breaking up with her, noting that “‘this is a critical period for you, too. Now’s the time to set up the rest of our lives.’” (p. 140). Throughout their relationship, Jake is haunted by his mother’s warning: “‘If she’s in the way of your dream, she’s not the one.’” (p. 95). Why does Jake choose this moment to insist that he and Sophie go in different directions?
8. Jake’s nickname is Einstein, something Sophie used to be called, for his objectively genius results. But his flagship investment is Roxster, which he has chosen not just for its potential, but because it also funds research at institutions studying the nature of time, connecting him to Sophie (pp. 183–84). What does this emotionally driven investment reveal about Jake’s character?
9. Although Sophie is energized by her graduate school work, she struggles with the questions she wants to answer, until an innocuous comment from Benji Malchik at the end of the New Haven Half Marathon, which causes her to consider “transformation—
that was it” (p. 189). What leads to Sophie’s insight at that moment?
10. After Sophie returns to Yale, Professor Malchik becomes a mentor and confidant to her, inviting her into the family. What effect does the Malchik family have on Sophie’s personal and professional life? Why do you believe she names her famous theorem after Professor Malchik?
11. When Jake finds out what Sophie has accomplished, he sets out to contact her, but deletes his email after watching a video where a reporter asks her what’s next and Sophie says, “‘I have some ideas’” (p. 193), making him believe Sophie has more to discover. Why does Jake feel that he would stand in the way of Sophie’s greatness? What might have happened had Jake sent that email?
12. The novel jumps forward twenty-five years, to when Sophie—now a professor—meets Jake’s son, Liam (p. 201). Why do you believe the author made the choice to accelerate the timeline, moving quickly from present to future?
13. Liam has trouble with physics, and Sophie illustrates what makes physics exciting by telling him about streamers: “‘The electricity in the air before lightning strikes? My point is that you can’t see any of these things, but you can feel them, and physics can prove them to you. You can’t see them, but physics shows you they’re there’” (p. 224). How does this relate to Sophie’s work on the concept of time? Why does Liam choose to use streamers as the inspiration for a piece in his senior show?
14. At the end of the novel, Sophie tells Jake that she arrived at block theory “because I felt you with me when you were gone” (p. 264). What inspires the other ideas Sophie had, which she no longer felt she had to prove? What conclusions does she draw, both from theories like supersymmetry, and from her own lack of interest in proving them?
15. Throughout the novel, Jake and Sophie repeat, “I love you,” and, “I know,” which also concludes the novel (p. 273). How does this exchange underscore the theme of intuition? How does this fit into what Sophie discovers about block theory?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Spend some time researching block theory, then discuss with your group. Had you encountered this concept before, either in an academic or fictional setting? Does it ring true for you?
2. “Equation by equation, Sophie transformed everything into Fourier space. She filled page after page, front and back. She didn’t feel like she was doing math. She was telling the world what it had felt like to be her. This was where her intuition had led” (p. 190). After Jake and Sophie break up, she trusts her gut feeling that he’s still with her, which leads her to prove block theory. Do you believe that intuition is a trustworthy guide in life? Why or why not? Has there been a particular crossroad when you trusted your intuition completely?
3. “Of course, no one ever wanted to move on. No one ever wanted to fall in love again after they gave their heart away to someone who didn’t come back” (p. 166). In this book, Sophie does not “move on”—and neither does Jake. Have you or someone you know ever experienced a love like this?
4. Visit the author’s website to learn more about Madeleine’s work and listen to the music that she selected to pair with this book.Author Q&A 1. What do you hope readers take away from this story? The Love Proof
is about the love that endures after a relationship ends. It captures the sentiment of I still care about you. I know you still care about me. I still feel you with me, sense you with me wherever I go
. Feelings don’t leave just because people do.
I hope that readers find this to be a beautiful story, not just in the ideas that emerge from the text—most importantly, that we’re always connected to the people we love—but down to the sentence level. I view this book as a tribute to the most beautiful parts of human character, too. It highlights noble traits including dedication, loyalty, hard work, and unconditional, timeless love. I hope it all comes together in a really gorgeous and stimulating way.2. Your first novel was an incisive satire of both the banking and yoga worlds. The Love Proof is a heartfelt love story. What prompted this change in direction? Do you see similarities between these two novels?
I think of my books as pieces in a bigger, cohesive work. In Breathe In, Cash Out
, Allegra Cobb is a tense Princeton grad who’s palpably suffering in her office job. What’s missing from her life? My next books answer that question. Each is a story on its own, and altogether, they make up a broader narrative about what’s truly meaningful and satisfying. Each is structured around a core theme, and together they reveal what Allegra needed to find joy. In The Love Proof
, the core idea is connection. In my next book, Food Fight
, it’s self-compassion. In the following story, Begin with a Broken Heart
, it’s faith. The Love Proof
and Breathe In, Cash Out
do have more in common, though, than just comprising the same mosaic. First, they’re both emotionally autobiographical. Breathe In, Cash Out
captures the feeling of a stifling job, working in a place that’s strangling your soul. The Love Proof
is a portrayal of loss, grief, and not-letting-go in a way that’s also authentic. Both books have pulses. Second, both draw from yoga, Zen, and New Age ideas. While Allegra aspires to these ideals, Sophie actually manifests them. Some yogis try to live without ego, meaning they don’t identify with the impermanent parts of their life. Sophie, to me, is egoless. She doesn’t want attention or aspire to achievement. She is truly humble.3. Jake and Sophie meet at Yale, which you also attended. What was it like to depict the campus in a work of fiction?
It was fun! It seemed fitting to set the story at Yale because it’s a place where change is less frequent, where time feels like it’s passing at a different rate, and that’s a theme in this book.4. This novel draws on a lot of different disciplines, including physics, finance, and art. Each character is defined by his or her passion for a subject. Is that something you were conscious of as you were writing?
Interesting! I suppose that emerges because that’s how I’ve been for a lot of my life. I tend to have one project at a time that I’m very passionate about, and maybe that oozes into my characters. They focus on one thing or a small subset of things because I do, too.5. Did anything—plot or characters—surprise you while writing the book?
I’m surprised that this story takes place over a lifetime, which is much more ambitious in scope than my first book. Whenever I write, I’m surprised that my work always attempts to be so substantial and intense when in person I feel very unassuming. The intention of this book really is significant, in that I wanted to memorialize and communicate a very intense feeling of permanent connection in a way that did it justice. I’m surprised that the main characters in this story are all so inward-looking and consumed by their own internal battles. I’m surprised at how short the book is, relative to what I try to accomplish within it.6. What was your favorite scene to write? Which was the hardest?
My favorite to write was when Professor Malchik tells Sophie about his lost daughter. It came through me very quickly. As it was happening, I felt more like a reader than a writer. I remember when Professor Malchik said, “I think she still has the clothes,” before I thought the phrase, which was very moving. Then he said Annie’s name before I anticipated it. I didn’t edit that scene much after the first draft. It just worked.
Structuring the scene when Sophie talks to Liam for the first time was hard because I wanted to make time slow down literally on the page. I wanted to communicate a sense of altered reality. How was I supposed to do that? I spent a lot of time thinking about it.7. Is there a character that you identify with in the novel?
Every character has parts of me in them. I’m like Jake because I can be singularly focused and content alone. I’m like Sophie because I can be youthfully idealistic. I’m like Professor Malchik because I used to expect my work to complete me. That being said, the character I identify with most
is Sophie. She’s kind and loyal—to Jake, to her gut, to her dream.8. At the end of the novel, Jake notes that “if he really did respect her once-in-a century genius, he’d have to honor her conclusion that, in things that really mattered, the mind didn’t matter at all. The answers weren’t in the head, they were in the heart” (p. 271). Obviously, these are your own words. What does this message mean to you?
Sophie thinks that a simple life with Jake is the most fulfilling version of her time on earth. Achievement doesn’t feed her soul. Connection does.
Does this resonate with me? Yes.
The big difference between Sophie’s view of love and mine is that she’s very couple
-focused, while I’m more family
-oriented. She is so focused on pouring all of her love into one person, but I see a bigger world than that. I think that’s because, for most of the book, she’s younger than I am. Younger women are more concerned with romantic love and finding a partner. Now that I’m with my partner, I view us as a family that can grow and explore the world together—not as a twosome who can hide together from everyone else.
Another way I’ve aged slightly out of her perspective is in my appreciation for imperfections. This book sees people through an idealistic lens, but I’m at a point in my life where I’m having more warmth for flaws and weaknesses. I bring that perspective into my next book, Food Fight
, which embraces full people more tenderly. You don’t need to be perfect to be loved by others, and, no matter what, you can always love yourself.