Title: We Are All Made of Molecules
Author: Susin Nielsen
Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Stewart Inkster is academically brilliant but “ungifted” socially. Fourteen-year-old Ashley Anderson is the undisputed “It” girl of grade nine, but her marks stink. Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. “The Brady Bunch” it isn’t. Stewart is trying to be 89.9% happy about it, but Ashley is 110% horrified. She already has to hide the truth behind her parents’ divorce; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They are complete opposites. And yet, no matter their differences, they share one thing in common: they–like the rest of us–are all made of molecules.
Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!
To be honest, I am aware that Susin Nielsen is a house hold name in Canadian Kit Lit, having written quite a number of middle grade novels and was a writer on Degrassi (which I enjoyed as a youngin’). This is my first Susin Nielsen book, and I can easily say it will not be my last. We Are All Made of Molecules is just such a peculiar book, chock full of humour and heart.
Stewart has lost his mother to cancer, his father is remarrying, and he gets himself a new sister. At first he’s completely thrilled, thinking he and his new sister will be besties. Scratch that out when Stewart meets Ashley, a dippy, full of herself girl who wants nothing more than her father to NOT be gay and her mother to NOT remarry. She wants nothing to do with Stewart, and that’s where the novel begins.
For the record, Nielsen plays with a lot of different stereotypes, but she does it in such a wonderful and charming way. Ashley is very ditzy, but speaks in such a matter of fact way, and yet she’s not actually as stupid as she comes across. Part of it is a defence mechanism, the other felt like she was sincere when she didn’t know something. She’s quite the frustrating character, and reminds me a bit of my own sibling in terms of having to always be right, always needing the approval of others, which really is what makes her work so well contrasted to Stewart.
Stewart simply wants to be accepted. He’s hyper-intelligent, kind, and social awkward. He feels as though he has some great qualities and yet he doesn’t entirely understand why he’s at the bottom of the food chain at school. He’s a character that wants to build relationship with others his own age, and yet he gravitates to those much older to him. I could totally relate to his character, especially at his age because I did a lot of the same things because I felt like people didn’t understand me or want to accept me. Nielsen does a great job making both Ashley and Stewart feels so natural.
And the humour in this book is wonderful and cheeky. There are so many moments where both Stewart and Ashley just made me burst out laughing because they are both crazy and yet neither of them see it. I also liked how Nielsen handled parents in this novel, as they all felt just real enough, especially when they would intervene between the two protagonists.
I found myself very fond of Ashley’s dad, who came out very late in his life, and admits to changing his family’s dynamic, but never ever loving them any less. Ashley struggles throughout the novel with having a gay parent — she feels it will make her less popular or people will pick on her, and yet her father gets it, respects it, but tries to make her see that this is something she must either accept or walk away from. Nielsen nails this with ease, and she makes the problems between Ashley and her father complicated, but really moving at the same time.
I loved, loved, loved this book and I’m so happy I was given the opportunity to check it out. Susin Nielson really knows how to balance humour, complicated emotions, and heart with such ease. Plus her writing is just a lot of fun. I found myself constantly thinking about this book well after I finished it, because I loved the complexity of the characters in this story, even if they really were built off of simple stereotypes. This one is definitely worth checking out, especially because Stewart really will warm his way into your heart.