Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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Need a book to kick off your summer reading? Lessons in Chemistry is that book – I promise. It’s completely original and completely delightful. It will simultaneously piss you off and make you laugh out loud. It was feminist, funny and fantastic and full to the brim with heart! It was also the perfect choice for our book club. I couldn’t love the people inside these pages more and I am sorry my time with them has come to an end.

I couldn’t express my love enough for the characters. They were all so excellent. I kept saying to myself that Elizabeth Zott’s across-the-street-neighbour, Harriet Sloane, was worth her weight in gold. What a great woman and a great friend to have in your corner. And I couldn’t despise Madeline’s (Elizabeth’s daughter) kindergarten teacher Mrs. Mudford more. I’m certain you’ll share these sentiments too when you read Lessons in Chemistry.

There are so, so many fantastic moments inside the pages of this book. So many pearls of wisdom spoken often by Elizabeth, or by Harriet (never by Mrs. Mudford!) that are either empowering, maddening and frustrating but so many are completely laugh out loud funny.

Elizabeth is a quietly empowering woman, fighting hard against the systemic sexism in her field and which women face everyday. You’ll fume at what happens to Elizabeth, and on multiple occasions. You may recognize yourself in many of her situations. She truly doesn’t realize she is doing this, as she’s very serious all the time, but there is this moment here that was very powerful and captures one moment when she quietly revolutionizes her female viewing audience:

“Whenever you start doubting yourself,” she said, turning back to the audience, “whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change – and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what you will change. And then get started.”

And there is this gem:

Elizabeth harangued about women accepting their subordinate positions as if they were preordained, as if they believed their smaller bodies were a biological indication of smaller brains, as if they were naturally inferior, but charmingly so. Worse, Elizabeth explained, many of these women passed such notions down to their children using phrases like, “Boys will be boys” or “You know how girls are.” “What is wrong with women?” Elizabeth demanded. “Why do they buy into these cultural stereotypes? Worse, why do they perpetuate them? Are they not aware of the dominant female role in the hidden tribes of the Amazon? Is Margaret Mead out of print?”

This doesn’t quite capture the fabulousness of Harriet, but it will give you a glimpse:

“It’s a family tree project,” Madeline said, clunking her lunch box on the counter. “Mom has to fill it in.” “I don’t like these things,” Harriet muttered as she studies the badly drawn oak, its branches demanding names of relatives – living, lost, dead – one related to the other by marriage, birth, or bad luck. “Nosy little sapsucker. Did it come with a subpoena, too?”…”You know what I think?” Harriet said, folding the note back up. “I think these trees are a poor attempt to feel like you’re somebody based on somebody else. Usually comes with an invasion of privacy. You mother is going to hit the roof.”

I’m not going to say too much more about this book other than you really need to read it! I sent numerous texts to Hoarder Elizabeth while reading, saying she was going to love it, her mom would too, and it was an excellent purchase (we both bought the book). Lessons in Chemistry has also already been optioned to be a series on Apple TV – I cannot wait to watch it! It is a perfect book to be adapted! (Although I will express my personal opinion here in that I am not thrilled that it appears to be Brie Larson cast as Elizabeth Zott? Please, please do an excellent job of it! (Because she wasn’t as Captain Marvel. (again just my opinion here kids!)

Happy Summer Reading! It is the long weekend, Victoria Day holiday here which typically means the start of summer and I hope this book is on your pile for summer reading!