Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Fiction Review: Lessons in Chemistry

I decided this year to only going to write a full-length review if a book was really great. Well, my very first book read in 2023, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, met that criteria. I already know this thoughtful, laugh-out-loud funny book will be among my top reads for the year because I had an absolute blast reading it!

The novel begins with a brief set of scenes in 1961, where Elizabeth Zott, an out-of-work chemist and single mother of a brilliant five-year-old daughter named Madeleine, heads off to her new career, as the television star of a cooking show called Supper at Six. Then the narrative moves back to 1951 to provide the backstory of how all that happened. Elizabeth started out working as a chemist at a local research laboratory. Her male colleagues--and boss--were all less intelligent but (probably because they knew how smart she was) treated her horribly. She wanted to work on a ground-breaking idea of her own but was usually assigned to scut work and treated like an assistant. Then she met Calvin Evans, the tall, handsome, brilliant chemist who had his own fully-equipped lab to himself because he'd won a Nobel Prize. Like Elizabeth, Calvin wasn't very good with people. He was known for holding a grudge and being a loner at work. But once the two of them got to know each other, it was ... well, chemistry. She moves in with him, he invites her to do her work in his lab, and the two of them are fabulously happy together. Somehow, though, we know from the start that their wonderful relationship can't last because we know where Elizabeth is ten years later.

Most of the novel is about those ten years, from awkward chemist Elizabeth first meeting Calvin to her somehow transforming into a huge TV star, with flashbacks to Elizabeth's and Calvin's earlier lives. The plot is intriguing, but this novel is about so much more than what happens. It's about love, women in the workplace, parenting, and finding happiness. Don't forget that it's historical fiction, too, and paints a complex (and horrifying) picture of the expectations and treatment of women in the 1950's and 60's. But it's the writing that really makes this unique novel shine. Garmus has created characters that you want to spend time with, not just Elizabeth but also Calvin, Madeleine, their neighbor, Harriett, and more. And I haven't mentioned the best part yet ... this book is hilarious! Even though it deals with some very serious issues of sexual assault, mistreatment of women, and more, this novel made me laugh out loud repeatedly, often taking me by surprise with its sudden wit. One of my favorite characters is Six-Thirty, Calvin and Elizabeth's dog, who is incredibly smart as well and takes it upon himself to protect the family. I know that sounds gimicky, but it isn't ... it's hysterically funny to hear Six-Thirty's very astute observations (thoughts--of course he doesn't speak) about the world around him and his role in it. I wanted to include some quotes, but you should experience it for yourself. It's best when the humor takes you by surprise. I loved every moment of this novel, and I never wanted it to end. It was the perfect book to kick off the new year, and it left me smiling and feeling satisfied.

390 pages, Doubleday

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Monthly Motif Challenge - New Year, New Direction (direction in the title - I know "in" is a stretch, but it's the best I did last month)

Alphabet Soup Challenge - L

Literary Escapes Challenge - California



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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. I've heard the audio is great!


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



Or you can order Lessons in Chemistry from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. This really is a fun novel with some serious topics tucked inside. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I loved this book, too, and so did everyone in my book group. I wouldn't say we had the best discussion, though. It just delighted us all and surprised us at the same time So empowering.

    1. Delightful is the right word! Interesting you didn't have a great discussion - there seems to be a lot of meat there.