“While we may be born into families, it doesn’t necessarily mean we belong to them.”Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry
Title: Lessons in Chemistry
Author: Bonnie Garmus
Genres: Historical Fiction, Feminism
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
Published: April 5th, 2022
My Rating: ★★
Read: 6/27/2022 – 6/30/2022
Between the hype, the cover, the era, and science being a huge part of the plot, I was so pumped for this book. I wanted to love it. I tried to love it. Alas, I was greatly disappointed.
Things started off okay. I wasn’t super into it but I saw potential. Around page 150, I gave up hope. I didn’t like Elizabeth, I didn’t care much for Calvin, and while the Six-Thirty plot line was endearing, I wasn’t a fan of the large chunks told in his POV. It threw off the story’s rhythm, which I already wasn’t taking to.
While I read the beginning in-depth, I completely skimmed the second half. Elizabeth’s holier-than-thou attitude wore thin, which I realize is an ironic term to use with so much belittling of people with any religious affiliation (more on this in a moment). I like reading historical fiction that captures the era in which it’s set. In many ways this book did, but with so much influence from the ideals of today. Some of the examples of sexism felt greatly exaggerated as well, though it’s difficult to articulate why without having to mark this down for spoilers.
Back to the book’s issue with religion… I know going into a story like this that faith (or lack thereof) is going to be mentioned at least a few times. That’s okay. However, some passages/scenes here went beyond what beliefs the characters hold and questioning why other people might think a certain way. It was offensive. Yes, I am a Christian. No, I do not inherently dislike books that challenge or exclude religion or illustrate horrible things that have happened among certain authorities and certain organizations. In this case, it was not about dealing with these issues. So much implied that these behaviors are those of everyone as well as the ‘pointlessness’ and ‘uninformed’ nature of it all. It was in poor taste, and I would maintain these feelings if the tables were turned.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy the book. I made a valiant effort to overlook what I didn’t like but there wasn’t much I walked away with. And for a book marketed as a comedy of sorts, there were far too many depressing scenes to be considered lighthearted.
Likes & Dislikes
What I liked:
- The era. I feel like there aren’t a lot of fiction books set in the 50s-60s. At least not compared to the popularity of the 40s/WWII era.
- Science angle! I’m a bit of a geek. Though I could never be a scientist, I love to read about it.
- A pet that lives. Cannot stress this enough.
- The aesthetic of the book cover. Though I agree with what maybe people have said about it being misleading, I love the vibrant color of the backdrop. I also love the UK cover which has a more retro feel to it. It also is a better mirror for the darker edge of the story.
What I didn’t like:
- As I mentioned in my review, the slander of religion. It was not exclusive to one denomination, either, which is why I’m saying religion over Christianity, though this was the biggest target.
- The story didn’t flow well. We start off in the 1960s and end up in a prolonged flashback to the 1950s with a bunch of details crammed into that time. The whole rowing thing felt like a major distraction from the bigger story.
- Misplaced ideals. I’m not saying women of this time didn’t have similar thoughts and stances that women do today, but they would not have gone about it the way Elizabeth did without a big stink. And frankly, I would have rather have read a non-fiction book about one of these real life advocates and their struggles.
- A bitter tone in the narrative. I found Elizabeth insufferably bratty and thinking she’s better than everyone else. I had no sympathy for her whatsoever.
- Science vs. Religion. I don’t know why it’s still assumed religious people don’t believe in science. Speaking for myself, my religious beliefs make me more interested in science. But according to this book, my opinion doesn’t matter simply because I hold a certain belief.
- Marketed as a comedy? I also mentioned this in my review. I didn’t find the book particular funny. There were a number of witty moments, but not enough to be calling it ‘laugh out loud funny’. There are a number of graphic and triggering scenes for many. That’s a dangerous claim.
- The all men are evil trope. While the 50s and 60s did in fact run rampant with male chauvinists, the fact that nearly every single man that crossed Elizabeth’s path were lewd and abusive bullies was ridiculous. It’s an insult to the good men of that time. Had there been balance, sure. Yeah. Some men were terrible toward women in the workplace and still are today. That doesn’t mean every single man harassed every woman they had the ‘misfortune’ to work with.
This is probably the more disappointing book I’ve read this year. I was so geared up for a great read. Perhaps some of that is on me, though. Given the mid-20th timeline, I was envisioning another read like Daisy Jones and the Six. I think I prefer the raw settings of this time rather than the sophisticated ones.