- Author: Susin Nielsen
- Publisher: Random House/Wendy Lamb Books Pub date: May 2015
- Intended for: Ages 12+
- Perfect for: Anyone who likes a good character-driven story.
My lovely sister-in-law Colleen gave me a galley of this book to read, for which I am very thankful. I’m so glad I picked up this book because I was immediately drawn into the story, and especially the characters.
Susin Nielsen is really good at creating characters. There is a sizable cast in We Are All Made of Molecules and Nielsen is adept at creating characters that are fleshed out enough so that we understand what they are all about, and readers grow to care for them all on an individual level, even when they aren’t the main characters. It’s her ability to create such realistic characters that make this story what it is.
Stewart is a gifted, late-blooming 13-year-old who is still filled with grief following the death of his mother a couple of years prior. Ashley is an uber popular 14-year-old who is still filled with anger following the divorce of her parents (due to her father coming out) a year or so prior.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of both Stewart and Ashley. Their lives intersect because Stewart and his father move into Ashley and her mother’s house due to the fact that the father and mother started dating a while ago and things are now serious.
So, that means Stewart has to leave behind the house he grew up in with his mother. And not only that, but Stewart had been attending a school for gifted kids and he is now starting at a normal high school (the one Ashley attends) in order to try and become more social, which he is doing in part because he thinks doing so would make his mother proud. But starting at a new high school is easier said than done because he is a small, nerdy-looking kid who has to try and fit in with kids who don’t just look older than he is, but actually are older because Stewart has been moved up a grade.
Ashley certainly doesn’t appreciate her life being interrupted by Stewart and his dad. Mostly because she doesn’t want to be associated with her geeky kinda step-brother. Also because said boy knows about Ashley’s dad being gay, which Ashley is trying desperately to keep a secret because she thinks her peers will make fun of her.
What I like about the characters in this story is that they have a lot of growth. Stewart is able to see that he can be courageous and have friends even though he is small in stature and interested in the more intellectual side of life. Ashley is able to see the people in her life for what they are, both good and bad. She also gains self-awareness, understanding that the way she treats people can in turn affect the way she is treated. Their growth feels very natural and the story unfolds at a great pace—I didn’t want to put the book down!
But while I liked the characters and the story a great deal, I will say that I wish things didn’t come to such a quick and pat ending. The emotions and situations both Stewart and Ashley have to deal with throughout the book are well written and not rushed, but then it feels like the ending just got slapped onto the story, like, “Here you go…we want everything to turn out well and to have everyone learn what they needed to learn.” That was a bit disappointing, but not enough to deter me from recommending it. The characters and writing are strong enough to support the book despite its (in my opinion) rather stuck-on ending.