Book Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Title: We Are All Made of Molecules

Author: Susin Nielsen

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes

This was a thoroughly charming and engaging novel that I finished in one day. Told in the alternating voices of new stepsiblings (sweet nerd Stewart and bitchy, popular Ashley,) it tells a touching story of a blended family and its problems and triumphs.

Stewart’s dad married Ashley’s mom. Ashley’s gay bio dad is living in a small home on their property. Furious that her dad is gay and she has to live with her new stepfather and his socially inept son, Ashley strives to make their lives as hard as possible.

After going to a school for gifted kids Stewart is going to his first ‘normal’ school and he immediately starts being bullying by a grade-A douche named Jared. He wants to bond with his new step-sister but Ashley isn’t having it. Stewart’s mom died of cancer and he’s still grieving that loss, and Ashley is hiding her dad’s sexuality from her ‘friends’ (more like low-key frenemies) and classmates.

Then Ashley starts dating Jared, an increasingly toxic situation that will change the lives of all involved. The question of whether Ashley and Stewart will find common ground serves as the main conflict of this novel. Like I said, Stewart is a sweetheart and Ashley…. not so much. Stewart seems to be ‘on the spectrum’ (even though this is never confirmed) and his extreme literalness and naivete and Ashley’s hyperbole and malapropisms make for entertaining reading.

Even though Ashley is a total mean girl (and not the sharpest knife in the drawer) she has her moments, and the author makes you feel sympathy for both characters. Sometimes Stewart is a little bit too naive/oblivious and both of them seem excessively willing to overlook how horrible Jared is.

If they had wised up to Jared’s nastiness (which shouldn’t have been hard, since he tried to pull down Stewart’s pants in the locker room right at the beginning) a lot of the problems that ensued could have been avoided. I was happy to see Stewart finally start to get angry with Ashley later in the book because it was way overdue.

She initially treats him terribly, but you do get a realistic sense of their developing camaraderie as the novel progresses. I liked that both the voices were so individual, and the author did a great job of making sure they didn’t blend together (which is a problem in a lot of books with multiple POV’s.) It was fun to see events from both Ashley and Stewart’s perspectives and how differently they viewed things. I thoroughly enjoyed Nielsen’s characters and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

(Please note that even though this book is light at times it contains a trigger warning for sexual assault and attempted rape. There’s nothing graphic but some people might find it disturbing.)


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