Lessons in Chemistry
I waited a long time to be first on the library holds list for Lessons in Chemistry and it was worth it! What a delightful, amusing, heart-wrenching and lovable book. With over 93,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4.5-star average rating, Garmus’s debut novel was named Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Elle, Oprah Daily, Newsweek, GoodReads, Bookpage and Kirkus. I am not one to always jump on the bandwagon (though I do pay attention), but guess what? Everyone’s right IMO.
Set in southern California, the story begins in 1961 as Elizabeth Zott starts her day. She’s thirty-one, single mother to precocious five-year-old Madeline, and host of a wildly popular afternoon television show, Supper at Six. Although Elizabeth is an excellent cook, she’s also an unjustly unemployed chemist. Through her show, she opens the eyes of millions of American unappreciated and discounted housewives.
Elizabeth knows about not being taken seriously. As a chemist in a male-dominated field, she fought to be recognized for her work in chemistry, and lost. The irony of being a cooking show host to housewives depresses her. She also lost her soulmate, the brilliant chemist and Nobel nominee Calvin Evans. Calvin was the one person who took her work seriously. Supper at Six pays the bills, but she must find a way back to the world of science.
Supper at Six is an unusual show. Elizabeth offers no-nonsense cooking advice and teaches chemistry while she cooks. And she always offers a message to her rapt female audience: demand to be taken seriously, pursue your goals, you can do anything. “Cooking is chemistry,” she tells her audience. “And chemistry is life. Your ability to change everything—including yourself—starts here.” Elizabeth breaks all the established television rules and drives her producer crazy. Their boss threatens to cancel the show if she doesn’t toe the line.
I don’t want to say anything more about the plot because it’s just too good to relate second-hand. I love how Elizabeth says exactly what she thinks and doesn’t worry about the consequences. I love the dialogue and the POVs of Garmus’s main characters, including Elizabeth’s soulful dog, Six-Thirty. I love how Garmus tempers heartache with humor and depicts the 1960s when women began to demand recognition. Additional themes include love, family, loss, religion, secrets, fame and the accepted practice of going along to get along.
While Lessons in Chemistry may appeal mostly to women, this is a feel-good book for all readers.
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