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Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielson

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


We Are All Made of Molecules
Susin Nielsen

Genre: Contemporary
Hardback: 256 Pages
Publication: May 12, 2015
by Wendy Lamb Books



Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.

Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.


Review

We Are All Made of Molecules is a YA novel that I've been waiting for. The plot is focused and relatable, and the characters clearly mature over the course of the novel. Most importantly, We Are All Made of Molecules has a strong message for readers. While reading is something that I enjoy, I also want to learn something from the books that I read. It can be a moral lesson, or it can be something as simple as a character learning some truth about life and / or standing up to his or her fears. We get all of these in Susin Nielsen's latest novel.

The writing is simple, much more so than I would have expected in a novel that contains some mature content. While I generally like novels with more complexity, the simplistic language and straightforward narration are powerful tools that bare the characters' lives to the reader. There aren't any extraneous details that distract from the main plot points. Furthermore, We Are All Made of Molecules is a novel that can be easily finished in one sitting. Nothing should distract from the story except an emergency.

As you might have guessed from the synopsis, the story is told from the alternating POVs of Stewart and Ashley.While it was interesting to see their different opinions on certain topics and to see what goes on behind the scenes in each character's lives, I found much more depth overall in Stewart's perspective. For much of the novel, Ashley is a shallow, fashion-crazy, boy-obsessed girl who is overly concerned with the social ladder and where she stands on it. While we do learn things from her that we can't get with Stewart, who is bad at reading social cues, I enjoyed reading from Stewart's perspective so much more. He makes nerd jokes (something I love but rarely see in YA lit), he's funny, and he's interesting. Ashley's POV doesn't contribute enough that I feel like it is essential to the story's message. She does become more likable at the end; at the same time, it isn't until the end that I really appreciated her character. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver presents a more complex character in Samantha, who is also an "It" girl that matures into a more sensitive and caring person.

That said, what Ashley's POV does contribute to the plot is that her story intertwines with Stewart's story to show the different facets of high school life. Ashley may just be a girl who is concerned with the social hierarchy, but she is also a bully who has made fun of others and stepped on them in order to climb to the top of the social ladder. Stewart is a boy lacks social awareness and has been bullied as a result. While I wasn't particularly fond of Ashley's POV, I like how the alternating POVs weaves together the lives of the bullies and the bullied, the "haves" and the "have-nots," to reveal the absurdity of categorizing peoples' values based on where they stand on the social ladder. Whereas Ashley considered herself to be at the top of the ladder, her relationship with her "friends" is a facsimile built on what she imagines to be the prefect life. In the end, Stewart, who stays true to himself and presents himself as he is to others, proves that true happiness comes from making real connections with the people around you. In order to be happy, Ashley must become more like Stewart, and the two must work together to defeat the system that gives bullies the power to oppress others.

Literary Value: I find We Are All Made of Molecules to be a novel with literary value because of the growth that the characters exhibit. Stewart and Ashley enter the novel with preconceptions about how their lives will go, and after their first meeting, they form superficial opinions about each other that will later prove false. They learn about the complexity of life and about the fallacy of judging people by appearances and initial impressions. There are important messages about respect and tolerance, family and friendship, bullying and the social hierarchy, what is really important in life and what it means to be a decent human being. The plot has the complexity that I have been searching for in YA lit.

Mature Content: While the language is simple and more what I would expect from a middle-grade novel, I would not recommend this to younger readers because of the content. (Warning: potential spoilers follow.) Ashley belongs to the stereotypical "It" scene in high school. She and her friends lust after the hottest boy in their school, there is language and talk of girls' bodies in a boys' locker room scene, there is partying with alcohol involved, and there is an almost-rape scene. Stewart is bullied because of his brains and geeky appearance, and at several points he is afraid to go to school. There is also homophobia and discrimination against homosexuality by some persons.

Overall: We Are All Made of Molecules is a novel that I believe young adults should read. It has complexity: Stewart and Ashley show true character growth, family and friends play important roles in their lives, and their story shows us what is really important in life.

A copy was provided by Random House for review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Series
  • N/A

Content
  • Some language
  • Alcohol
  • Bullying (some takes place in the guys' locker room)
  • Some homophobia (on the part of the "bad guys")
  • Kissing, making out, some explicit sexual content / talk about sexual activities
  • An almost-rape scene

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