Susin Nielsen strikes gold once again with her new YA novel We Are All Made of Molecules. Much like her previously published books, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom (reviewed by bellsiebooks) and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (reviewed by Consumed by Ink), copies of this new book are sure to sell like hot cakes. Molecules will make the Best of 2015 lists everywhere. Mark. My. Words.
When we first meet 13-year-old Stewart, we realize right away that he is different and gifted. He has an endearing—though totally geeky—way of explaining how he and his father have been coping after the death of his mother. He explains that his family “had been like an equilateral triangle. Mom was the base that held up the whole structure. When we lost her, the other two sides just collapsed in on each other.” We learn that father and son have had a tough time since she died. Stewart views this period as the time his father “was Sad Dad twenty-four-seven, and [he] was Sad Stewart twenty-four-seven, and together [they] were Sad Squared, and it was just a big black hole of sadness.” After such a heartfelt, adorable declaration, it was impossible for me not to like and root for Stewart when I found out his life was about to change. He and his father move in with his new girlfriend, Caroline. The new girlfriend’s daughter—a fourteen-year-old, popular drama queen named Ashley—makes the move difficult from the start.
Stewart’s new stepsister isn’t happy about her new living arrangements. She’s still angry and ashamed about her parents’ divorce. On top of that, she’s paranoid that her friends and classmates “would love the fact that [her] so-called life was built on one gigantic lie.” That lie: her father came out of the closet. He’s gay, and that doesn’t sit well with Ashley. Nor does the idea of having a “midget-egghead-freakazoid” move into her home. Ashley is teenage angst personified. She is self-centered and hypercritical. She blows up at the tiniest annoyance or provocation. At school, she is obsessed with looking her best and maintaining her it-girl status. She’ll step on anyone’s toes to ensure that things go her way. So, when Stewart transfers to her school and shows up in Ashley’s English class wearing a smiley-face tie, I enjoyed reading about her squirm.
This story follows a familiar, predictable arc: two people with clashing personalities must eventually join forces to overcome the narrative’s main problem or obstacle. Still, Nielson has a fresh take on this much-used storyline. The author’s use of first person point-of-view brings Stewart and Ashley’s emotions to the forefront. Their voices are so different and believable. The author touches a lot of issues: bullying, homophobia, blended families, death, and mourning. She managed to do so without being preachy or talking down to her young, smart audience. I giggled and *nearly* cried along the way.
I think this is a touching, fun, and important book. It’s ideal for mature middle grade kids and young high school teens aged 12 to 15. Then again, I think any YA-loving teen or adults with enjoy this fast-paced book. With yet another great title under her belt, Susin Nielsen is quickly becoming the John Green of Canada.
Here are two other bloggers’ glowing reviews of the novel:
Darren at ShinraAlpha claims it’s a “book with some serious heart.”
Stephie at The Book Wars contends that “Nielsen is simply a great Canadian writer.”
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*