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

we are all made of molecules review

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielson, Tundra Books, out now.

Stewart’s always wanted a sister. So you’d think that he’d be over the moon when him and his dad Leonard move in with his dad’s girlfriend Caroline and her daughter Ashley, who’s only a year older than him. But it’s not that easy. Here’s why:

  • Stewart is still very much in mourning over his mother, who lost her battle with cancer two years ago.
  • Ashley completely ignores his existence or when she does, is not nice at all.

“[Ashley] is very pretty, but I think she is also possibly hard of hearing, because when I try to talk to her, she either walks away or turns up the volume on the TV really loud. Maybe she’s just shy.”

In We Are All Made of Molecules, Nielson frames back and forth chapters between Stewart’s and Ashley’s internal monologues. Ashley isn’t so thrilled for the move-in either. Here’s why:

  • Stewart is a ‘freakazoid’ and ‘seriously funny-looking kid’ and actually his name is ‘Spewart.’
  • Leonard doesn’t deserve her gorgeous mom.
  • Ashley’s dad, though divorced from her mom because he came out as gay, still lives in their garage-house (that was built with the help of the crew from garage door repair lakewood) in the backyard, but she doesn’t want anyone to know about that or that he’s gay.

“…This entire situation is completely uncalled for! I didn’t ask for you and Dad to divorce. And I didn’t ask for dad to be gay!” I stood up, pushing my chair back so hard it clattered to the floor. Then I put my face inches from Stewart’s. “If you so much as breathe a word to anyone at school about my dad, I will have you killed!”

“Okay, that is totally inappropriate,” Leonard began.

“Ashley Eleanor Anderson,” said Mom. “I have never been so ashamed–”

“Welcome to the club!! I’ve never been so ashamed either! I am counting down the days til I can become unconstipated!!”

Mom looked puzzled. “What does that have to do with this? Do you need to eat more fiber?”

“No, the other meaning!” I shouted. “The one that means I can divorce my family!”

There was silence for a moment — then the little freakazoid started to laugh. He tried to stop. He put a hand over his mouth. But it was too late. I’d seen him do it.

So … things are complicated, to say the least. How are they going to feel like family?

We Are All Made of Molecules is a middle grade/YA blend (if I can say that, because really it’s right on the cusp) novel set in Vancouver that addresses some of the closest relationships you can have at 13- and 14-years-old. Besides the nuclear family which is the main content of the book, Stewart and Ashley both have to navigate friendships and crushes. They’re at an age when everything is confusing and they’re just trying to bumble along hoping to know that people care about them and trying to figure out what they’re good at.

Not to mention, things they have to deal with are quite rough for just-turned-teenagers. Stewart is dealing with his mom’s death and the resulting depression and anxiety as well as bullying because of the kind of person he’s perceived as and Ashley is flunking at school, starting to date a really questionable older guy (the bully), experimenting with drinking, trying to figure out if she’s homophobic or if everyone else is and feeling rejected by her father. That is a lot for anyone of any age. But even when things get tough, and they think nobody else cares, they’re shown how they’re wrong (which is good).

Nielsen was once a writer for Degrassi Junior High. So if you know how the Degrassi model of storylines deals with all the things, this will feel like a familiar read. (If you are one of us who haven’t read Nielsen’s other novels.) It’s exciting for a middle grade novel to deal with such adult issues so bluntly. Plus, it means Nielson is ace at writing in teen voices.

It’s a really quick read; I gobbled it up in a weekend. It’s cute, hip, funny and Canadian, so I enjoyed it. I recommend it if you are into those things!

[I received this book from Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review, this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]

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