The Bossy Bookworm
Review of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Garmus's debut is witty and smart, heartbreaking, infuriating, and lovely. Lessons in Chemistry explores deep issues, conflict, and dark times, yet offers hope and joy. I loved it.
Elizabeth Zott has worked hard in her scientific pursuits, often as the only female in the room, either dismissed or harassed because of her gender.
Now Zott is a chemist in 1960s California on an otherwise all-male staff at Hastings Research Institute. Gender equality is nowhere to be found--but Elizabeth has one ally (and potential love interest, ahem!) in the sometimes-abrupt, socially awkward, awe-inspiring, brilliant Nobel Prize-nominated Calvin Evans.
After twists and turns, momentous changes, and several years, Elizabeth is a single mother who becomes...the star of a hit televised cooking show. But she's not only demonstrating recipes. She's using science to inspire the upending of the status quo for her largely female audience.
On the other hand, wasn't that the very definition of life? Constant adaptations brought about by a series of never-ending mistakes?
The dog element in Lessons in Chemistry worried me at first, but only for a moment. It could potentially have distracted or felt clunky, but it was lovely.
Females are overshadowed, abused, and generally wronged throughout the book, a reflection of realistic, historic treatment. But there is some eventual revenge that I found deeply satisfying.
This cover style says "light fiction" to me, but this book addresses deeper issues--of what it means to be a family, of secrets and vulnerability, of constricting gender roles, of loss and love, and of the powerful shattering of expectations.
Garmus's characters test themselves and others, shy away from connection, dive into love, question the meaning of life, embrace or eschew religion, and cleave together in heartbreakingly beautiful, unexpected ways. I loved this.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Lessons in Chemistry is Bonnie Garmus's first book.
Exciting news for story-to-screen fans: the book is reportedly being adapted into a streaming series on AppleTV starring Brie Larson.