Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist. She should be excelling in her field, pursuing her research, widely respected by her colleagues. The problem is – Elizabeth is a woman in the early 1960s and at every turn she is hampered not exactly by her gender but by men who don’t believe she can do more than make coffee or maybe work as a receptionist. When she meets the Nobel-prize winning chemist Calvin Evans, the two don’t immediately hit it off but it doesn’t take long for them to fall in love. Calvin’s status as a respected researcher at the Hastings Institute where they both work seems to be working in Elizabeth’s favour too but things don’t always go as planned.

In a few years, Elizabeth is still not a famous chemist but is a single mother. When she is given the opportunity to host a television cooking show, she is initially reluctant. The producers want her to be the pretty face of a show for women who stay home and greet their working husbands with a cocktail at the end of the day. But Elizabeth isn’t that type and she’s going to do everything she can to encourage the women who tune in to change the world.

Reading that description and looking at the cover of this book, you might be forgiving for classifying it as “chick lit” (as much as I hate that term). I started reading this expecting a light and fun read and so was surprised when there is a pretty awful assault in the first few chapters. The book is funny and Elizabeth is charming and beautiful and could work well as a romance heroine. But it also deals with some major issues. Sexual harassment, death, career choices. While I occasionally felt like I was getting whiplash, moving from the hilarious to the horrific so quickly, it also felt like a far more accurate portrayal of life for many women in the early 20th century.

The book is very readable and there is a lot here that will appeal to readers who liked books with quirky main characters like The Rosie Project. But don’t be fooled, there’s some heft behind this pink cover.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus”

  1. That whiplash between super sweet and really traumatic happened in a book I just finished! It was weird because everything would be quirky or romantic and then boom, sexual assault.

    1. The book really presents itself as a quirky romantic comedy too. Which I think is a case of poor marketing and not the author’s fault but makes for a weird read if you don’t know what you’re getting into!

    1. I bet you have seen it! It’s a bit of a bestseller here so I imagine it’s doing well other places too. But not the right cover for it!

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