Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in the early 1960s, a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be in a lab. She receives so little support from the all-male research team at Hastings Institute that she has to resort to stealing beakers to keep her research going. Calvin Evans, the Nobel prize-nominated scientist whose lab Elizabeth pilfers, ends up becoming her romantic partner.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

After a few years together, life intervenes and Elizabeth, now a single mother, finds herself hosting a popular cooking show. She takes a highly scientific approach to cooking and again refuses to conform to traditional norms for women.

This historical fiction book gets five stars from me, primarily for its originality and memorable main character. While the sexism and abuse Elizabeth is subjected to throughout the course of the book aren’t unusual, the overall story was unique and it was told in a quirky, interesting way. 

The book explores the definition of family, observing that being born into a family “doesn’t necessarily mean we belong to them.” The storyline demonstrates the different impacts that living in a male-dominated world had on the relationships women had with each other.

The unconventional main character and the writing style were reminiscent of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. However, while Garmus writes Elizabeth with a bit more edge than Bernadette, she manages to make her come across as more likable. 

Garmus’ skillfully handled the insertion of Six Thirty’s voice. In my opinion, knowing what the family dog thought at certain points in the story added to the narrative. The restraint Garmus used illustrates her talents as a writer and storyteller. Sharing the dog’s perspective could have easily been overdone, but it was sprinkled in just enough to make it moving and endearing.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong female main characters, stories about people who challenge the status quo, or reading about what it was like to be a career woman in the 60s. Really, I recommend this to anyone who loves an excellent book!

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