Of Blended Families, Respect for Young Women, and Establishing our Fundamental Sameness in Susin Nielsen’s “We Are All Made of Molecules”

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Myra here.

When I chanced upon this book in our library, I immediately picked it up. I thought that the title points towards establishing a universal sameness across all human beings which is the very essence of our current reading theme. Add the fact that the novel has been receiving a great deal of buzz recently.

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We Are All Made Of Molecules

A Novel by: Susin Nielsen
Published by: Wendy Lamb Books, 2015 ISBN: 0553496867 (ISBN13: 9780553496864)
Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Told in alternating voices (reminiscent of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun and Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places), this middle grade novel introduces two unforgettable characters in the presence of the highly-gifted 13 year old Stewart who is socially awkward and parallels real-life problematic situations with the make-believe model UN scenarios they are given in his previous gifted school to solve world crisis. I feel that he is a sharp-witted, highly-sensitive, and emotionally balanced boy who would eventually come into himself as an adult, given his ability to recognize social cues and his capacity to learn from previous mistakes, unlike, say, young people who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome who are pretty much set on their ways and unyielding in their habits and views. Stewart’s mother just died from cancer and he and his father are gradually moving forward with their lives.

Then there is the beautiful fourteen year old Ashley, a dead ringer for Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, who is at the top of the social ladder but somewhat dead between two ears. I love how she often claims with great feeling how she wishes to be “unconstipated” from her family. I know it’s somewhat cruel but I just had to laugh out loud at her virtual cluelessness, her equally superficial friends, and her obsession with fashion, clothes, and girly magazines. Her gorgeous father just moved out of their picture-perfect home as he has just admitted to himself (and his family) that he is gay.

Stewart (or Spewart as Ashley calls him derisively) and Ashley’s largely-distinct lives are about to collide since Stewart’s father is moving in with Ashley’s mother. Consider this a portrait of your post-modern, non-traditional family set-up. And it isn’t easy for everyone, more so for Ashley. In fact, Stewart managed to indicate the differences in both their moods in the chart below:

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The family set-up could have resulted as a total caricature or a mere sketch with the token gay character, yet it has a lived-in truth to it that burns with authenticity and is funny as hell. I can not count how many times I was in stitches just reading certain passages from the book. It reminded me a little bit of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7swhich is saying a great deal as I find that novel to be one of the most life-affirming stories I’ve read.

The character of good-looking Jared was simply despicable, and I liked how the bullying and empowerment threads along with how girls should be treated by their young men had been subtly interwoven into the narrative without ending up too heavy-handed. Most especially, I like how the title drove home the important point of our fundamental sameness regardless of seemingly-outward differences:

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This is a deceptively-simple story that manages to insidiously sneak in heavy going themes without the reader noticing. Easily one of my best reads this year.

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(19/24) Read a middle grade novel.

1 Comment on Of Blended Families, Respect for Young Women, and Establishing our Fundamental Sameness in Susin Nielsen’s “We Are All Made of Molecules”

  1. This sounds good. And, Stewart sounds a bit like me. Especially with the mood chart. Usually everyone thinks I don’t like to do things, and that is just because I react the same way to things I don’t like to do (I may not even smile!) – but that is usually because I am trying/concentrating. 🙂 I need to check this book out! 🙂

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