Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

“Because while musical prodigies are always celebrated, early readers aren’t. And that’s because early readers are only good at something others will eventually be good at, too. So being first isn’t special – it’s just annoying.”

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, a single mother and a very reluctant cooking star host of the beloved, Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (continuously proclaiming how hard it is and using chemistry terms!) proves to be very popular and revolutionary. She’s not just teaching women how to cook but daring them to change the status quo of things in the early 1960s. How did a chemist with a masters degree get here? How did she end up in the kitchen? Well, you’re in for the most unusual love story.

“Imagine if all men took women seriously . . .

Zott is the only female chemist at Hastings Research Institute, even though her male colleagues constantly come to her for help, they do not think she is smart enough. They find her too uppity because she refuses to make copies, make coffee, or anything else that her male colleagues aren’t required to do. They are also resentful of the fact that she is beautiful and does not want to date any of them, be groped or “accidentally” touched. She experiences so much sexism at work until she meets the often oblivious Calvin Evans.

My favorite thing about Garmus’ characterization of Evans is that she does not write him as a perfect paragon of feminism. Yes, he does not logically understand why Zott is not treated better, given the intellect she possesses and he takes her ideas seriously, but he is still just a man. He proposes to her even though she already told him she does not intend to ever get married. He automatically assumes that she would change her name and completely blanches at the suggestion that if it isn’t such a big deal then he should change his to hers.

This story is filled with so many great side characters. A neighbor that could have been the stereotypical nosy neighbour but Garmus writes her to be so much more. If you’re an animal lover, there’s a dog named six-thirty that most animal lovers would absolutely adore. I am not an animal lover but even I appreciated his contributions to the plot! A priest that fleets in and out of Calvin and Elizabeth’s lives, a very smart and delightful daughter called Mad! and a secretary at Hastings that makes Elizabeth’s life a living hell!

I’m getting weary of reading about quirky female characters who are written like they’re on the spectrum but are not written consistently. Elizabeth in my opinion was very naive, socially awkward and sometimes delusional. There are so many times I just felt like this character was not at all realistic.

The blurb on this book says it’s supposed to be laugh out loud funny, I didn’t find it funny. This book should actually come with a trigger warning – there’s a brutal rape, an attempted rape and suicide. I don’t think I even smiled once. The character said something about subsidized child care in Sweden and I had to google this because I was quite shocked that this would be a thing in the early 60’s which is when this book was set in and I was right, subsidized child care was not a thing till the late 70’s in Sweden. I wonder why her editor didn’t catch that.

Anyway, I did enjoy this book overall and would recommend it. I went into it with extremely high expectations built up by bookstagram and I think I was ultimately a little let down. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. It is a debut novel and I must say, it read like one. If you enjoy quirky characters and a charming cast of support characters, then this one is for you.

Leggy

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