Book Review: Lessons In Chemistry

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel Prize–nominated grudge holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind.

Like science, though, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth finds herself not only a single mother but also the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show, Supper at Six.

Her unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because, as it turns out, she isn’t just teaching women how to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo. Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

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This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 

I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.


I loved this book. 

It reads like a contemporary work of fiction but it takes place in the 50s and 60s so technically it is historical fiction. And then, with the creation of the character Elizabeth Zott, we have a character who changes the world (but not really because this is fiction) so it is a bit more alternative history and that falls under the very wide speculative fiction category…. Oh, and there is just enough romance that you might make a case for that label as well.

The point is, Elizabeth Zott is no average woman. Her dog, Six-Thirty, is no average dog. And this is no average book.

Since it has been a while since I wrote a book review or since I discussed how I write book reviews, time for a refresher. I like to use the ASPECT method.

A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include overall tone.

This book made me feel a large range of emotions. Like many feminist books, there is the portion where men (or “the man”) treat our protagonist like dirt. This part of the book is intentionally frustrating so that the payoff or the eventual win for our heroine can feel that much sweeter. There are also some bittersweet moments… I didn’t cry but I did get sad. This is a spoiler-free review but I will tell you that the sad parts were well telegraphed and therefore not shocking. 

S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?

Conversational, easy to read, and charming. I never skimmed and I never had to reread passages. 

P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?

The plot is good even if it wanders a bit. The pace…. Is probably my only quibble. Garmus likes to use very long flashbacks that while never fully taking you out of the story, do tend to shape how you are reading the story. Chapter 1 is in 1961. Chapters 2-26 are all from 1952 through 1960. So… chapter 1 should maybe have been a prologue? The story finally catches up with itself and then continues on… but there are other short flashbacks sprinkled throughout. It was never confusing, but it was a little… uneven at times. This didn’t diminish my enjoyment, but it was noticeable. 

E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?

This book was fun to read, fun to think about, and a perfect book to read while on vacation. Easy to pick back up when I found a few moments, and interesting enough that I looked forward to those moments. The only cloud on this horizon is that I wished so badly that Elizabeth Zott was real and that her impact on the world of 1960s housewives had actually happened. 

C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, or interesting?

Elizabeth was a fun-to-read character. Her daughter Mad was a precocious child who ranged from annoying to endearing as all precocious children do. (Trust me, I have one of my own.) The side characters were mostly fleshed out and interesting. I liked that you knew they all had actual lives outside of Elizabeth’s narrative and that we were only seeing a bit of them. I loved the character arcs of a few… the trope villain to friend comes to mind but I won’t spoil anything. Ultimately, the dog Six-Thirty was the best character and one of the best dog characters I have read in, well, a very long time. (Maybe not since Enzo in Art of Racing In The rain.)

T This: Why did I read *This* book?

Book Of The Month recommended it to me with the tagline “This novel has the perfect molecular structure: a charming protagonist, humor, a lovable dog, and feminist bonafides.” And… yes. 1000% yes. 

I highly recommend this book. It has an almost too sweet happy ending and is an optimistic book about how one person can be a catalyst for positive change in the lives of their loved ones. Sometimes, that is exactly what you need. 



*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)

A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.

S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?

P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?

E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?

C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?

T This? Why did I read *This* book?


Thank you for your support!

Published by kayliametcalfe

Queer,loudmouth,skeptical-agnostic-pagan,book addict,coffee lover,wine drinker, SAHM,writer,editor,producer,podcaster. -She/her

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