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Publisher's Summary

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 fans 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 onetime 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 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.

©2017 Weike Wang (P)2017 Random House Audio

What members say

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  • SydSavvy
  • PARIS, TX, United States
  • 06-10-17

Sweet and Sour. Light and Heavy. Perfect.

Perfect book for summer-full of just the right contrasts. Sweet but sour. Both light and heavy at the same time. About nothing, about everything. About the Chinese, about Americans. Children and Parents, lovers and fighters. The yin and the yang, the push and the pull. Chemistry. Trying to figure it out and making a mess of it. Finding truth. Just perfect.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Momtastic
  • Wilmington, DE United States
  • 10-06-17


Listened for book club

I could not decide about my feelings towards the main character. At times I felt really bad for her and other times I wanted to tell her to stop being so pathetic and self centered. There was so much self loathing from the main character and her mother. Though the dialogue made me think maybe we all are somewhat self centered....

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very different

Different. Several moments were very insightful. Recommend! Jumps around but does not distract too much.

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What is chemistry without chemical reactions?

This book was very disappointing. It has a very dark character and a heroine who is lost and without love. Fortunately she has a very funny dark humor that has some redeeming value in the novel.

I would not recommend this book to anyone except for someone who appreciates the dark humor.

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Having a tiger mother can really mess you up!

Where does Chemistry rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I enjoyed it...having been a chemistry major myself, I identified with the experiences and emotions that surprised and overwhelmed the nameless main character.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I liked Eric for his steadfastness and calm. We all need someone like this in our lives,

Which character – as performed by Julia Whelan – was your favorite?

Julia Whelan did a great job of expressing the everyday experiences and emotions of the main character in a straightforward manner without being deadpan.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed out loud at the main character because she was so honest in describing her everyday experiences and the events that happened to her. Spoiler Alert. .... My heart broke for her when it became obvious that she would not achieve success in her chosen academic path and then the resulting emotionally devastating fall out. I loved that she discovered her true talent.....being able to foster understanding of math and science topics as a tutor.

Any additional comments?

Audible is the best thing since sliced bread.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Interesting book!

Enjoyed this book and hearing the struggle of a real woman trying to find her way. Would recommend!

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Overrated and boring.

Quirky character plus lots of "facts" do not equal a good story. No plot here, and as a character study, I found it both predictable and incomplete. I guess if you know nothing about science this will probably be more interesting for you. But let's not be blown away by a decent writer also knowing a bit about science.

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Jeca_b

This book was sharp and smart. I loved every minute of the story - I only wish it were longer!

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Chemistry is spare, sparse, intense, and funny

Spare, sparse, intense, and funny, Chemistry is all of these and more. Weike Wang's writing style was a bit distracting to me at first, but after just a short time, I found it really helped to get her points across as clearly as possible, just like science. To give you an idea, this is what the unnamed narrator thinks when Eric, her boyfriend and fellow graduate student, proposes, "Diamond is no longer the hardest mineral known to man. Lonsdaleite is 58 percent harder than diamond and forms only when meteorites smash themselves into the Earth.”

Eric, the only named character in the novel, is one of the narrator's problems. Should she marry him or not? “Before we started dating, Eric would walk by my hood and compliment my vials – how pretty they were. Pretty chemistry for a pretty girl. And I blushed. I didn't think I was that pretty. I wasn't as pretty as manganese.”

Several other problems loom large, including her lack of research progress after three years and her adviser. There are no two ways about it; graduate school is difficult, especially if you are used to success.

“Coming in, I think myself the best at chemistry. In high school, I win a national award for it. I say, cockily, at orientation, Yes, that was me, only to realize that everyone else had won it as well, at some point, in addition to awards I have never won.”
“In Arizona, a Ph.D. adviser dies. Authorities blame the grad student who shot him, but grad students around the world blame the adviser.”

One of the biggest problems is her Chinese parents and their unremitting high expectations. Her father has managed to go from rural China to earn his Ph.D. in America and tells his daughter, “Tell me the time in arc second per second or don’t tell me at all.” There is also the incredibly sad comment from her mother when she says she is leaving her graduate program, “You are nothing to me without that degree.”

With all of these issues tormenting her, our narrator has to determine for herself what does she really want. Synergy, chemistry, alchemy, the recognition that science is not a panacea, and plenty of spare dry humor help to make her search for answers into a wonderful story.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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