Garmus, Bonnie. Lessons in Chemistry. Doubleday, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-0385547345 $29.00.
Elizabeth Zott, an opinionated, smart, and talented aspiring chemist tries to further her research and runs into male privilege, under-equipped labs, lack of funding, and sexual assault–until procuring beakers from another scientist gets her noticed by Nobel Prize winner Cal Evans. They develop a mutually respectful and lovely relationship, where a rescue dog named Six-Thirty completes their child-free family–until Cal suffers a tragedy and Elizabeth finds herself with a child out of wedlock. The novel centers around how Elizabeth came to star on a popular television show Supper At Six, where each recipe has a foundation in chemistry, sending housewives to the store for sodium chloride and acetic acid. Her deconstruction of cultural norms that hold women back and encouragement of fans to follow their dreams make her both popular and a threat. My most favorite part was Elizabeth’s attempt to teach the dog English vocabulary–and the dog’s narration.
The writing was so absolutely stellar–funny, poignant, infuriating, and magical, peopled with impossible and flawed characters. Modern women will shudder at how little we’ve come since the sixties. The sport of rowing plays a major role, as does chemistry, and these elements elevate the story from a mere romance to something really special. The many accolades are well-deserved; this is a powerful debut novel.
I listened to Lessons In Chemistry via Audible and the narration was crisply delivered with unique voicing for each distinct character. This is a fabulous readalike for fans of science-y books about women overlooked, featuring strong women and research, such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax.
I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #LessonsInChemistry from #NetGalley.