So there I was, barely 50 pages in, wondering why this brightly colored book was making me sad. By the time I came down from the rollercoaster of emotions that Lessons in Chemistry was, I had concluded that this was one of the best stories I’d read in 2023.
I usually don’t choose books based on their plots. Rather, my interest is piqued by either one of the following things: the author, the title, the cover, or its popularity.
I chose Lessons in Chemistry for three of those factors: the four brightly colored quadrants on the book cover, the prominent display at a bookstore I saw a few months back, and the catchy title.
Synopsis and Themes
What kind of a story would have the word “chemistry” in its title? My first thought would have been a cheesy romance, but the cover didn’t give any credence to that. Also, I’m not a fan of chemistry (and physics, too), but I once read a novel titled Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and I loved it.
Spoiler alert: These stories are not about science, not exactly.
Lessons in Chemistry is the story of Elizabeth Zott. Set between 1950 and 1960, Elizabeth Zott is a scientist in a world and time where women are constantly underestimated and their achievements overlooked. However, Elizabeth has decided that she will not be ignored, and instead of playing by the rules, she’ll make her own.
This might sound like a motivational story, but it is more than that. It’s a story about people (my favorite sort of story) and family. It is a story of how our past can define us but also be the fuel that propels us into our future.
Now, let’s talk about why this is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Lessons in Chemistry made me laugh. I know I said earlier that it made me sad, but it is just bad things happening to people, and that’s life. There’s quite a few unintended deadpan humor, which I quite enjoyed. I found myself laughing at scenes like this:
“…when a nurse came in…demanding to know something -how she felt? – she decided to tell her.
‘Mad? The nurse had asked.
‘Yes, mad,’ Elizabeth had answered because she was.
Are you sure? The nurse had asked.
‘Of course, I’m sure!”….
So there it was: the baby’s legal name was Mad.”Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus
Another reason I enjoyed Lessons In Chemistry is the storytelling. From my brief description of the plot and a review printed on the book cover, it might seem like a book devoted to female empowerment.
However, while I didn’t miss how Elizabeth Zott faced difficulties simply for being a woman, I love how this theme was woven into the plot and not the other way around, as stories like this can easily become diatribes against all men. Rather, the way this story is written made me forget I was reading a book. I fell completely into it and finished it in two sittings.
Suspense and Multiple Perspectives
Yes, this book is a definite pageturner. Although the main character is Elizabeth, there are other stories intertwined with hers, and these other characters also lend their voices to Lessons in Chemistry.
This created suspense for me, especially as I read parts where one character did not know what another knew or there was some misunderstanding between characters.
I’ll be singing the praises of Lessons in Chemistry for a while. It made me laugh, not smile, but laugh out loud in public places. This story is enthralling and well-written. And it is a reminder to never underestimate people based on their sex.
Apple TV+ has adapted it, but as a member of the Books-Over-Movies team, I would recommend you read the book instead.