May 11, 2015

We are All Made of Molecules

by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books
978-1-77049-781-8
246 pp.
Ages 12+
For release May, 2015


Blending families can be difficult but even more so when each family has a young teen burdened by the issues related to why their original family no longer exists.  We Are All Made of Molecules is told in the alternate voices of two young teens, Ashley and Stewart, whose families are joined together when Stewart’s dad, Leonard Inkster, and Ashley’s mom, Caroline Anderson, decide to move in together.  Stewart’s wonderful mother, Janice, has died of ovarian cancer, and Ashley’s father, Phil, has realized that he is gay and now lives in the laneway house behind the very house Stewart’s dad, Ashley’s mom, and Ashley and Stewart, and Stewart’s cat Schrödinger, will now cohabit.  Yep. Awkward.

Even though Stewart could continue at Little Genius Academy, he chooses to attend Ashley’s high school, claiming “It’s time for me to work on my ungifted parts.” (pg. 31) In fact, he makes a list of things he will do at his new school like getting more involved, smiling more, making jokes, and not getting discouraged.   And with a new “sister” like Ashley who melds her drama queen with mean girl to perfection, Stewart has to work pretty hard.  But the serendipitous attraction between Ashley and a jock hottie and bully named Jared puts Stewart in the awkward position of liaison, one that gives him some respite from attacks on two fronts but also breeds some doubts.

Ashley’s emphasis on the Social Ladder and everyone’s placement on it,
People like Stewart don’t even count. They don’t even have a foot on the ladder. They can’t even touch the ladder.  They are forbidden from going anywhere near the ladder. (pg. 74)
is re-assessed courtesy of Stewart and his quality self.  Susin Nielsen dedicates her book “To Oskar–Boy, did Dad and I hit the Jackpot” and I think Stewart’s family did the same.  He’s a quality human being: incredibly gifted, kind-hearted, compassionate and loyal.  He could rip into Ashley any number of times for her selfishness and cruelty–and her misuse of common phrases are to dye for! (my deliberate faux pas)–but holds back, though he still thinks,
She doesn’t have to changes houses, and bedrooms, and neighbourhoods! And sure, her parents are divorced, but at least they are still ALIVE! (pg. 24)  
Still Stewart shares with Ashley the knowledge that they are all made of molecules, explaining his quirky but tear-jerking way of harnessing any remaining molecules of his mother’s soul. By contrasting these two teens, one with quirky wisdom ringed with love and the other who sees differences as hierarchy and can’t see the difference between “joie de beaver” (pg. 122) and joie de vivre, Susin Nielsen has once again created a story that slices into your heart with tenderness and splinters your side with humour.

Look for We Are All Made of Molecules on award lists everywhere soon. 

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