A year and a half after his mother’s death, a still-mourning 13-year-old named Stewart is uprooted from his childhood home when his father decides to consolidate households with the girlfriend he met at work. His new pseudo step-sister, 14-year-old Ashley, is grieving the breakdown of her own original family unit and has no interest in playing nice with the latest additions to her home. Will this domestic collage find a way to knit together, or fall apart at the seams?
We Are All Made of Molecules is a simply written crossover from Middle Grade to Young Adult—featuring an alternating first-person point of view from the perspectives of both Stewart and Ashley. The book is set in Canada (Vancouver B.C.), and the country-specific references are fairly frequent. The characters themselves come across as mentally on the young side of MG, while some of the content (repeated sexual assault, locker-room sexual harassment, casual underage drinking, and allusions to masturbation) is clearly better suited for a YA audience.
What I Liked:
Stewart was instantly likeable, despite his social impairments. He wore his disadvantages with total self-awareness and an admirable determination to improve himself by bolstering his weaknesses. He could continue attending his comfortable private school, at significant cost in money and commute time, but instead chooses to navigate the less sheltered territory of public school. Stewart reminded this reader of a more believable and endearing version of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This reader greatly appreciated the direct cautionary references to sociopathic behavior. Rather than promoting the naive and dangerous assumption that all people are “basically good” and can be reasoned with, it presented a primary antagonist who was cunning, cruel, and incapable of guilt. (I was glad enough at this to let slide the fact that he presented as a stereotypical rich jock.)
Though the mentioning of Stewart’s mother is brief, there the author manages to elicit a surprising depth of emotion from an economical use of words. The very beginning is especially heart wrenching.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Ashley. Never has this reader encountered a more detestable or less sympathetic protagonist (and I use the term ‘protagonist’ very loosely.) Her voice is the literary equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.
While Ashley is clearly one of the two main characters and consumes half of the POV space, this reader was hard-pressed to spend any time in her shallow, narcissistic, and dim-witted perspective. She is more caricature than character—half valley girl and half "mean girl" archetype. Not until 3/5th of the way through does she show signs of possessing any base human empathy. The more impatient readers may very well be driven to dread her chapters, and possibly even to want bad things to happen to her. Considering the fact that sexual assault is twice used as a plot device to force her otherwise stagnant character growth (and never constructively addressed or dealt with), I’m greatly conflicted over the message this inadvertently sends.
Those looking to this story for its purported humor may end up disappointed. What little humor there is could be best classified as childish—reliant upon base bodily function references, weak puns, and word mix-ups that seem entirely meant to denote either Stewart’s social ineptitude or Ashley’s excruciating lack of intelligence.
Also, it seemed glaringly obvious that Stewart landed somewhere on the high-functioning autism spectrum. But that issue is unfortunately never gone into other than to have him repeatedly declared “gifted” and a “nerd.” Sadly, this felt like a missed opportunity.
I would never complain of this normally, but the ending seemed almost TOO neatly tied up. As a result, the resolution felt lackluster and artificial. Add to that a predictable plot brimming with characterization stereotypes, and I’m afraid this pans out as an easily forgotten tale.