Thursday, February 23, 2017

We Are All Made of Molecules, Susin Nielsen

Title: We Are All Made of Molecules
Author: Susin Nielsen
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Year: 2015
Pages: 256
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Blended Families, Popularity, Peer Pressure, LGBTQ+
Age Range: 7th Grade and Above

Stewart always wanted a sister. So when his father announces that they would be moving in with his girlfriend and her 14-year-old daughter, Stewart is hopeful that it will help take away some of the sadness he's been feeling since his mother's death the year before. Ashley, on the other hand, is NOT HAPPY about the new living arrangements her mother springs on her. She just wants to return to the perfect family life she had before her father told them he was gay and moved into the guest house. Stewart and Ashley could not be more different. Stewart is a genius in everything but social skills. School isn't really Ashley's thing, but she is the most popular girl in school. How will these two seemingly incompatible teenagers coexist under the same roof, both at home and at school?

This book got one of my infrequent 5-star reviews. I am very stingy with my 5-star reviews. A book has to really be so well-written or so powerful that it deserves to be set apart from even other good books. I loved everything about this story. The Stewart that Nielsen created is possibly one of the most engaging, likable characters I have ever read. I wanted to hug him, high-five him, I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home with me. He isn't perfect, which makes him all the more believable, but his sense of fairness, his loyalty, and his overall integrity made me wish he was a real person that we could clone and send out into the world to show the rest of us poor slobs how we should behave towards each other.

I did not love Ashley at first, but then, you're not supposed to. She makes the biggest changes in the book, and that's good, because the person she was at the beginning of the story was an entitled, mean-spirited brat. But as you read, you discover that much of her attitude is designed to cover-up her feelings of intellectual inadequacy, and her deep fear that if anyone at school knew her true self they would crucify her. She bought in 100% to the ridiculous notion that exists in teenage culture that popularity is everything, and that you need to achieve it at all costs. The consequences of that drive for the top started catching up with her, however, and she was forced to confront the fact that maybe there are more important things in life than being at the top of the social pecking order.

The story is told alternately from Stewart's and Ashley's perspectives, and while this has become a fairly standard practice in this case it really does add value to the story. Aside from the odd couple nature of the relationship between the two almost-step-siblings, the book deals with sexual assault (not graphic, and really and "almost" assault), teenage drinking, bullying, and coming out. It is a beautiful, emotionally impactful telling of two families becoming one.

Usually, I try not to use phrases like "full of heart" because they've become so cliche, but I have to for this book. It is full of heart, and if you can come away from reading it without feeling connected to these characters, and proud of the changes they make, then maybe you yourself have no heart!

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