2.5 star, adult

Review: Chemistry by Weike Wang

At first glance, the quirky, overworked narrator [of this] novel seems to be on the cusp of a perfect life: she is studying for a prestigious PhD in chemistry that will make her Chinese parents proud (or at least satisfied), and her successful, supportive boyfriend has just proposed to her. But instead of feeling hopeful, she is wracked with ambivalence: the long demanding hours at the lab have created an exquisite pressure cooker, and she doesn’t know how to answer the marriage question. When is all becomes too much and her life plan veers off course, she finds herself on a new path of discoveries about everything she thought she knew.

I wish I could have given this a better rating – I really wish I liked it more. Overall, I didn’t have the best time reading it, but there were definitely redeemable elements that make me appreciate it. This short novel is also written in a very interesting way, which I found to be unique, but not altogether my preferred style.

Chemistry revolves around a nameless narrator, and we follow her trains of thought as she navigates her PhD in chemistry and possible upcoming nuptials. She has a Chinese background and the ever so prevalent Asian Parents. As she continues to endure more of the pressure from all angles, how will she survive, and what will happen to her?

This book is written in a semi-unique manner that literally follows the narrator’s train of thought. It is usually short, sporadic and dynamic thoughts rendered into short sentences. As a usual reader of prose and well-crafted sentences, this was a huge change for me, but it does reflect more of what real thoughts are like. I didn’t particularly enjoy this experience though, where it felt like my own reading voice was constantly being cut-off.

The redeeming element in this book is in its commentary and allusion to Chinese principles and upbringing. As an Asian American, she undoubtedly faces all the pressure from both of her backgrounds: to fit in to American society, yet conform to the strict Asian parenting standard. Although I personally didn’t experience the same things, I know many Asian Americans do, and her thought process was frighteningly similar to feelings and thought patterns that I know many people go through. On that level, I felt like many Asians could relate.

Another redeeming element in this book are the little chemistry jokes and metaphors made! As a STEM major myself, I definitely appreciated them. And even if you have no idea about chemistry, everything is explained so that it made sense. The allusions to chemistry is definitely one of the underlying and repeated motifs in this novel.

Overall I can see how this book might appeal to some audiences, but it definitely wasn’t for me. Even all the Chinese references and commentary wasn’t enough for me. The writing style and execution just weren’t up my alley unfortunately. I thought it provided some good relatable problems and good insight, but it is not the kind of book I’d enjoy reading many more of.

Overall Recommendations

Chemistry is an interesting novel in the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is struggling with her PhD in chemistry and decisions about marriage. It is written in a manner reminiscent of a real person’s mind, short and ever-changing thoughts. The main themes here include the Asian American heritage, and the struggles of parental and school (and love!) pressures. If these themes interest you, give it a shot. The writing style may be a bit peculiar, or perhaps you’ll find that you’ll relate to it more. This is definitely what I would consider more of a book for a niche audience.

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