We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen
30th May 2016, Random House Australia
336 pages, 3/5 stars
We Are All Made of Molecules fits so many big issues into its relatively few pages. It’s told from two perspectives – Stewart, who is a lovable, very intelligent, thirteen-year-old – and Ashley – Stewart’s new stepsister, slightly older, and completely angry at the world.
There is a fair bit of character development, which is lucky, because Ashley starts out as a completely rotten piece of work. Her parents’ marriage ended when her Dad came out as gay. She needed some time and space to process that, but he moved into their granny flat in the backyard! And now her Mum has invited her new boyfriend to move in, along with his dweeby son. Ashley is NOT HAPPY! She is also completely obsessed with her social standing at high school, and is determined to date the good-looking new boy.
Stewart’s Mum died from cervical cancer. While he will absolutely never ever forget her, and no one can ever replace her, Stewart is so excited to see his Dad happy again. He’s always wanted a sister, and is determined to make the most of his new living arrangements, even though it means leaving behind the house and most of the belongings which he associates with his Mum. Stewart also moves schools, leaving his gifted program for the mainstream system. He is determined to make his Mum (wherever she is) proud of his attempts to improve his social awkwardness.
The book deals with broken families, and blended families. Both Stewart and Ashley are dealing with grief, albeit different kinds, and in their own special way, they help each other through it. I particularly loved how Stewart tried to repair Ashley’s relationship with her Dad – he became friendly with him, and invited him to family dinner! It also touches on issues of assault, particularly sexual assault. It is horrifying to think that fourteen-year-olds can find themselves in awful situations, where compromising pictures can be taken.
Stewart was such a delightful character – I loved him to pieces! However, it was Ashley’s development that kept me reading; she learns to see beyond herself, an important reminder I could have had in my own teenage years.
The book is written in a simple style, but it deals with rather heavy themes. The vocabulary and pacing makes this an ideal read for reluctant teenage readers. Stewart is a bit of a nerd, so there are some interesting tidbits scattered throughout. Ashley isn’t particularly good at English, and there are some rather amusing scenes where she uses the wrong word! (Think ‘unconstipated’ for ‘emancipated’.)
Overall, it was probably just a tiny bit too simple for its content. I couldn’t fall into the story like I wanted to. An enjoyable, easy read, that deals with the early years of high school and the peer pressure of that time.
Meet Stewart. He’s geeky, gifted and sees things a bit differently to most people. His mum has died
and he misses her all the more now he and Dad have moved in with Ashley and her mum.
Meet Ashley. She’s popular, cool and sees things very differently to her new family. Her dad has come out and moved out – but not far enough. And now she has to live with a freakazoid step-brother.
Stewart can’t quite fit in at his new school, and Ashley can’t quite get used to her totally awkward home, which is now filled with some rather questionable decor. And things are about to get a whole lot more mixed up when these two very different people attract the attention of school hunk Jared. . .