We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
Stewart is a thirteen-year-old prodigy, academically brilliant but socially inept, and grieving over the death of his mother. Ashley is a fourteen-year-old queen bee, ruling the school but struggling with her work – and hiding the secret that her dad split from her mother as he’d fallen for another man. When Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother fall in love, the four of them move in together – but can these unlikely new siblings learn to tolerate each other?
I’ve been gushing about this on social media and at events a LOT since first reading it one Wednesday last November, then rereading it just two days later as I loved it so much. So of course, I’ve never actually got around to reviewing. For the few readers of this site who’ve somehow missed my dozens (maybe hundreds?) of tweets about it, this is an absolute gem. The two narrators have brilliant voices, particularly Ashley. As a former secondary school teacher, she’s right up there with Candy Harper’s wonderful Faith as one of the characters who has felt like the most realistic portrayal of a popular teen that I’ve read in YA novels. She’s a complex lead, often bratty, having real problems with her father’s sexuality, and capable of being mean to Stewart – but she’s also a loving daughter, someone who tries to do her best cheap Louboutin and has flashes of empathy even when she seems at her nastiest, and I adored her character arc over the book. Stewart is also very well-written, but it’s arguably the adult characters who are even more impressive – Stewart’s dad, Ashley’s parents, and her dad’s new boyfriend are all brilliantly rounded, and the new dynamic of their family relationship, with Ashley’s parents staying friends after they split up, is excellent.
In addition to the great characters, it’s a wonderfully warm-hearted story, with a beautiful feeling of family and friendship, and a message about tackling bullying and supporting those around you. Definitely one of my favourite contemporaries of the year so far!
Slightly more spoilery bit below – warning in case you want to stop reading now!
Stewart is a good character with a strong voice, and is absolutely sympathetic in his grief, but it’s Ashley who stands out to me because she feels like a character who’s not seen that much in books, at least as a POV character. I think that the way she grows as a person throughout the course of the book, becoming more accustomed to her father’s sexuality and his new partner, as well as to living with Stewart, is really good, and that change feels more realistic because of the little sparks of niceness we see in her earlier on when she’s less of a pleasant character. I was also really unsure how it would play out – one character, in particular, ended up playing a far different role from the one I’d have expected them to, and it’s great to be surprised when reading a novel. The heartwarming, cheer-inducing ending is amazing; it feels breathlessly happy, and positive, and is up there with Sophia Bennett’s You Don’t Know Me as one of the climaxes which has left me with the biggest grin on my face when reading.