Author: Weike Wang
A luminous coming-of-age novel about a young female scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off track; perfect for readers of Lab Girl and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.
Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry–one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.
Chemistry is a beautiful debut novel by author Weike Wang. The story follows a young Chinese American woman who has always seemed to have her life planned out before her; however, her life becomes unraveled when she quits her PhD program and her life begins to spin out of control. I found Wang’s writing to be personal, as though she were writing a memoir, and I enjoyed her description of the conflicts her narrator had with her parents. It was clear that the narrator loved her parents, despite how strict they were with her, and Wang’s writing opened up a discussion on what it means to love your parents unconditionally.
Chemistry reads like a disjointed train of thoughts. There are no chapters in the book, only different parts, and the parts are divided up into snippets. Wang seemed to write the novel cold, as though she wrote down ideas as she went, and I liked the spontaneity of her work. However, I did not connect well with the narrator, and I found it hard to care about her thoughts and experiences. The narrator’s thoughts were conflicting and problematic, but they did bring the reader insight on the experience of Chinese American women. Chemistry reminded me of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan in terms of the conflicting relationship that the narrator had with her mother, and I enjoyed reading about that experience. Since the narrator was first generation American, it seemed that she was torn between her Chinese heritage and her responsibilities as an American woman. Once the narrator brought light to the background of the experiences of her parents, their actions were justified. The immigrant experience was well received by me as the reader, and I enjoyed being opened up to this original perspective.
Chemistry is an inventive new novel that focuses on the pressure that young people face today from their parents and society. Wang brought a unique perspective by portraying the Chinese American experience, and her writing educates as well as entertains the reader. Besides the abrupt ending, I found Chemistry to be an easy vacation read (as I read it in two days on my own vacation) and it made me reflect on my own life. If you like novels that read like memoirs with a hint of comedy, then Chemistry is perfect for you!