I am a huge Susin Nielsen fan. We Are All Made of Molecules is only the second book I’ve read of hers, but I know this is true love.
In this book, Nielsen tackles some heavy teen issues: bullying, homophobia, sexting, popularity, and heartbreak. These are not simple or easy topics. In fact, these are some of the hardest conversations to have with young teens. For teens, life is heard because they are balancing that line between being a kid and being a young adult. They want freedom, yet aren’t always ready to deal with the consequences that come from their choices. Add in peer pressure and the desperate desire to fit in somewhere with people and being a young teen can be a harmful disaster.
The book is told from the perspectives of two characters: Ashley and Stewart. Almost overnight (well, not quite), they become step-siblings. Ashley is a fashionista who is high-up on the social ladder and is trying desperately to be cool and get the hottest guy in school to fall in love with her. Stewart is a nerdy genius who just wants to make friends at his new school and get along with his new sister. So not only do you have two teens the same age trying to survive school, but they are also trying to create a new family.
One of the most beautiful scenes to me is of Steward sitting under the afghan that his dead mother made and breathing in deeply. When Ashley asks him what he’s doing, he explains that he’s breathing in his mother’s molecules so he can be near her. Although Ashley is grossed out, the ideas sticks with her: we are all connected because we are all breathing in each others’ molecules all the time. The idea comforts Steward and it is a revelation to Ashley that people can be so similar, and race, religion, interests, sexuality, and gender have nothing to do with our connectedness.
I can see why this book is so popular. It deals with heavy ideas and emotionally charged issues, but Nielsen does so with grace and humour. She tells the story from the experiences of teens and doesn’t get caught up in explaining or dwelling, unlike adults. For teens everything is immediate and Nielsen captures that spirit and it is a beautiful thing.