“When someone dies, their molecules break down into smaller molecules as well as individual atoms. So, say a carbon atom is part of a molecule in a person’s leg. When that person dies, that atom could become part of a molecule in something else, like a blooming flower, or even another human being.”
This is the premise of Susin Nielsen’s new young adult novel We Are All Made Of Molecules. Using two unique characters and voices, Susin Nielsen draws us into the life of two families trying to rebuild their lives again after being destroyed by unforeseen circumstances…just like in life.
It’s the story of the Brady Brunch brought into the new generation; rather than six kids there are two, and it touches on issues that are forefront in our world at the moment. Susin Nielson knows a thing about being in touch with the modern world. After all, she penned 16 episodes for Degrassi Junior High. So you’d think she understands a thing about getting into the young adult mind space. And when you read We Are All Made Of Molecules, you will see that she just doesn’t understand the mind of the teen audience, she is a pro at analyzing it.
Writing for two distinct characters, 13-year old Stewart and 14-year old Ashley, Susin Nielsen manages to keep the two voices very authentic yet incredibly lovable. You understand the nerdy, smart scientific nature of Stewart and you also can relate to the slightly obnoxious (but still good to the core) personality of Ashley, a teenager who has just had her family turned upside down. Her anger is warranted and you really can’t blame her for it.
We Are All Made Of Molecules is delightful, smart and on point. Susin Nielsen knows her scientific facts from her teenage popularity guidelines, keeping a fine balance between the two, making sure that this book isn’t leaning towards one gender over the other.
Ok, here’s the ***spoiler alert***. Stop reading right now, if you don’t particularly want to know more about the story. And, I wouldn’t blame you, because I loved the surprise that the prose would present me. A sentence that would make you gasp, or cheer, or just have a sinking feeling in your heart. But most of all, it was the lovely sense of hope thought out the novel, rooting for this family to figure things out. Hoping that Stewart would have his dream of a sister he’s always wanted.
So here’s the crux of We Are All Made Of Molecules: Stewart just lost his mom to cancer. But that’s not the part that really ripped my heart apart: it’s that Stewart (an only child) really wanted a sister and for years bugged his parents about it.
“When I bugged my parents, they would say, “Stewart, we already have the perfect child! How could we do any better than you?” It was hard to argue with their logic.”
But life is not fair after all. With a brief bout of happiness, where Stewart’s mom thinks she is pregnant, and Stewart is ecstatic that he is going to finally get a sister, the reality is far from a happy ending. It isn’t pregnancy at all; it was a cancer, one that grows in her ovaries and eventually kills her when Stewart is only thirteen.
But Stewart (and his dad) get another chance at love and life. Didn’t I mention that We Are All Made Of Molecules was a Brady Bunch of sorts for the modern era?
“Caroline is Dad’s Schrödinger. He needs her and she needs him. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t still sad sometimes, because he is. It means he can put the sad on hold for bigger periods of time, and that is a good thing. For a long time he was Sad Dad twenty-four seven, and I was Sad Stewart twenty-four-seven, and together we were Sad Squared, and it was just a big hole of sadness.”
But before I give you the wrong impression that Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made Of Molecules, is all about sadness, doom, gloom, and desperation, let me state that this is indeed far from the case. Susin Nielson’s young adult novel is realistic, as it is a beautiful story of family and relationships, compromise and understanding, hope and modernity.