Andrea Nelson, Library Assistant, recommends Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.
The Community Library will hold its inaugural book club, “Together We Read!” on December 8, 2022. I am thrilled to host our first gathering! We will discuss one of my favorite recent works of fiction, Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus.
Don’t be fooled by its hot pink cover, Lessons in Chemistry is no weightless romance novel. Garmus throws a huge pile of infuriating literary stones at her protagonist, Elizabeth Zott. It’s not easy to fluster a brilliant scientist like Zott, however. She’s determined to deflect those stones, or at least heal from their impact well enough to break through the barriers they raise between her and her lifelong dream—a Ph.D. in Chemistry.
Lessons in Chemistry takes place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when American society largely disapproved of women like Elizabeth Zott. The few that managed to navigate the minefields of unreliable birth control and open gender discrimination in higher education found themselves swimming upstream in pretty hostile, white male dominated waters.
Determined not to let dim minds stand in her way, the indefatigable Zott fights her way into the rarified inner sanctum of academia, only to lose her job as a Teacher’s Assistant (her only source of income as a graduate student) over a “scandal.” Without other options, she accepts a job as a cooking show host. And being Elizabeth Zott, she does what any good chemist would do: She turns citric acid, sucrose, and H20 into lemonade.
The timing of this first-time author’s new blockbuster might explain, at least in part, its instant appeal. The loss of Roe vs. Wade erased a fundamental right that, for fifty years, gave women more power to compete with men in the workplace. Along with Griswold vs. Connecticut, which established a right to birth control, Roe advanced female equality in the pursuit of education and career opportunities by granting unintentionally pregnant women the freedom to control when, and whether, to bear children.
The attribute that takes Lessons in Chemistry to the next level, however, is Garmus’ incredible talent for character development. From the brilliant, quirky, indefatigable, lovably unintentional feminist to her supporting cast—including an equally brilliant young daughter and a loyal mutt with an enviable I.Q and a voice of his own. Not surprisingly, a movie is already in the making!
Please be forewarned that Garmus’ novel contains both heartbreaking and brutal scenes, but only those necessary to further the storyline and properly address serious issues that still threaten women today. Much like Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, the book does not sugarcoat the awful tolerance of crime against women and victimization in in patriarchal culture, but somehow, the story remains funny, lovely, and hopeful. Once you begin to read Lessons in Chemistry, you will not want to stop. When you do come to the end, you will want to talk about it!
Sign up for the inaugural “Together We Read!” book club here.
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