Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
You may have already read Lessons in Chemistry. It was a bestseller last year, and is already slated to be an Apple TV+ series later this year. But I came late to the party with this book, and only discovered it about a week ago, but I’m very glad I did.
In Elizabeth Zott, our main character, we find a scientific genius who is also extremely pretty and is probably on the autism spectrum. This may make her seem like a Mary Sue, that dreaded avatar for naive and self-regarding first-time novelists, but she isn’t. Everyone suffers, and so does Elizabeth Zott, but she is written with clarity, asperity and heart. She’s not interested in fitting in, and she won’t go along to get along.
In reading Elizabeth’s story, we see her grow, develop, overcome real hardship, experience love, and problem solve through chemistry. If you want a more thorough summary and analysis, here you go. She also manages to build a true family by the end of her story.
I’m more interested in explaining why this novel is being reviewed on a fairy tale site. Here’s why: Elizabeth may be brilliant and beautiful, but she’s a Cinderella character. She’s had a hard upbringing and comes across countless obstacles (usually in the form of dunderheaded Mid-century men) during the book. Indeed, if you are leery of books that are critical of misogyny in both men and women, this isn’t for you.
Stephanie Golloway wrote about resiliency in Cinderella stories recently, and it’s a good read! I mention this because Elizabeth Stott is resilient. That’s a big reason why I consider her a Cinderella figure. Elizabeth gets knocked down pretty hard, but, eventually, she climbs back up, no matter what. And because the pace of the book is sprightly, readers do not find themselves wallowing with the story even when tragedies happen. It’s ultimately a hopeful tale.
I should also add that there is a fairy godmother figure in the story and there is a “supernatural” character too, so she has help and friendship. Throughout the book, there is always someone who will try to help Elizabeth, even if they don’t always come at the perfect time and can show up in surprising ways.
The book also has great supporting characters in the form of a brilliant and quirky daughter, a downtrodden babysitter and some other improbable friends. And Six Thirty is a Very Good Dog. If you read the book, you’ll see what I mean.
About the only thing I want to add here is a content warning: Assault and abuse happen in this book. Both are handled with sensitivity and the author does not dwell on them. Garmus is also pretty hard on religion, so if that will really upset you, you’ve been warned.
Garmus has written a highly entertaining, absorbing, enchanting and touching novel in Lessons in Chemistry, and for once, I can strongly recommend a popular novel that is not overhyped. Enjoy!
You can buy Lessons in Chemistry HERE
Kate Wolford is editor-in-chief of The Fairy Tale Magazine.
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