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Highlights in the Charts

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Review by Jenna Tomlinson


It’s brilliant to see not only a surge in spotlighted female writers recently, but also in female protagonists, such as Elizabeth Zott in Garmus’ debut novel Lessons in Chemistry. Zott is one of the best representations of strong women in fiction, and the whole book is a fantastic commentary on just how far women’s roles in society have come, whilst acknowledging how much more there is to do.


Set in late 1950s/early 60s America, Zott is a brilliant chemist trying to carve out her space and build a reputation in a male-dominated world. Formerly a Doctoral candidate, Zott’s place on the programme was withdrawn after she was sexually assaulted by her advisor. Determined to continue her research, she takes a job at a research facility where she meets Calvin Evans, a fellow scientist quite unlike the misogynistic men of the era.


The novel alternates between time periods: we look back at Zott’s career at the research facility in the late 50s and jolt forward to the early 60s, at which point she is a single mother and the reluctant presenter of a television show; Zott uses ‘Supper at Six’ to teach housewives mathematics and science in her own version of a cultural revolution. We see her life through her daughter Madeline, who is desperate to learn more about her family history; the family dog Six-Thirty, on constant lookout for their safety; and Harriet Sloane, a kindly neighbour who supports Zott but faces her own difficulties as a woman and housewife.

Garmus’ characters are well written and three-dimensional, so it isn’t all saccharine sweet. The women are not all friends or even always kind to each other, and the men who engage in terrible behaviour don’t all get their comeuppance. However, there is a sense of inspiration in the book’s realism. I found myself deeply engaged in the lives of Zott and the other women, who slowly realise their potential and importance in society. The swell of confidence Zott offers her predominantly female audience, the vocabulary she arms them with and the fervour she cultivates is nothing short of rousing.


As one of the latest novels to be adapted into a TV series, Lessons in Chemistry is capturing a new audience whilst returning readers recap the story before the show airs. Revisiting this book filled me with the same excitement I had the first time around, cheering for Zott and the women she meets, but also noticing subtle hints and reveals I missed before. At a time when women’s rights around the world are questioned, Garmus has created a source of inspiration.


It Starts with Us by Colleen Hoover


Review by Maddy McManus


After taking BookTok and the book charts by storm, Colleen Hoover promised fans a new story about the lives and relationship of Lily Bloom and Atlas Corrigan, the triumphant characters from the popular novel It Ends with Us.


This story follows Lily, who is struggling with co-parenting and having her abusive ex-husband, Ryle, in her and her daughter’s lives. Things are especially hard for her as she secretly begins dating the man Ryle hates most: Atlas.


Fans of It Ends with Us will love seeing the dating life of Lily and Atlas pick up again from where the first book ended. After two years of separation, Lily immediately says yes when Atlas asks her out. However, her excitement is dampened by the presence of jealous and possessive Ryle, making some scenes difficult to read.


The highlight of Lily and Atlas’ renewed relationship is that old diary entries are revealed, with more insight about the fateful night that heartbreakingly separated them. The story switches between their two points of view, offering more information about Atlas’ past and his perspective of their relationship when they were teenagers.


One of the weaker parts of this sequel was the storyline about one of Atlas’ long-lost family members suddenly being found and becoming a big part of his life. It felt like a subplot for the sake of something interesting happening, rather than actually adding anything to the story.


It Starts with Us might seem like pure fan service, as some plot points were clearly laid out in the first book: Lily continues to fully remove herself from her abusive partner and the awful situation she was in, and she and Atlas pursue a relationship together. Perhaps this conclusion didn’t need a whole sequel dedicated to it, especially six years after the original’s publication. However, for the millions of fans Hoover has amassed on BookTok, this is a necessary read for their library.

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