Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A few months ago I was reading through my April issue of Bon Appetit magazine when I stumbled upon a personal essay called “It Was Quite Possibly the Worst First Date Ever. Then I Ordered the Scallops.” It was one of the funniest things I had read in quite a while. I read it aloud – in its entirety – to my husband that night. 

At the end of the essay was a tag that really got my attention: Bonnie Garmus is the author of the novel Lessons in Chemistry, in bookstores now and soon to be a limited series on Apple TV+. I immediately added her book to my TBR list on Goodreads and Amazon (waiting for a Kindle deal or a gift card from a student). I also jumped in the queue on Libby, figuring I’d read it in the first place I could get to it. Yes, all this off of one essay about a “bad date” and a plate of scallops.

My good intentions of waiting to read this on my library card failed me, however, and when I stopped in for a haircut at my favorite shopping center, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Barnes & Noble next door where I promptly laid down full price for the hardback. Yes, off of one essay. 

I vowed not to start reading it until my school year was over, as a treat of sorts, to celebrate the summer off. A week later, school was out and while packing for a trip to California to visit our younger daughter, I managed to refrain from packing the hardback, looking longingly at it on my nightstand as we left at the crack of dawn for our flight. 

A few days into the trip, hallelujah, an alert from Libby that I was up next on the waitlist for the ebook version! Feeling just a bit guilty about taking a copy of the ebook out of circulation when I already had purchased the hardback, I downloaded it and began reading it immediately. It only took a few lines to remind me of this author’s witty writing style and why I so loved that essay. I mean, there’s a reason this book is being adapted by Apple TV for a series starring Brie Larson!

Even with a hectic five days visiting my daughter and taking full advantage of the California weather and the largely unused pool at our hotel, I finished the book on the last day of our trip–bittersweet, I must say, because I loved this book and I hated for it to end. In fact, it is my favorite book out of all my summer reading! My obsessive googling provided me with this shocking bit of news: IT’S HER FIRST EVER NOVEL! Debut novels are not usually this good or optioned by a major streaming service or represented by the one and only wife of Stanley Tucci, literary agent Felicity Blunt, which I learned in the author’s acknowledgments.

Since this is supposed to be a book review and not a love letter from a new fan, let me say that the writing is crisp and the story moves along at a good clip. One of the things I loved most about this book is that it models one of my favorite lines: There is a lid for every pot. There is someone out there perfect for you, if only you are open to the possibility, if you are willing to compromise, if you can look past external factors and judge a person by his or her character. Unfortunately, it also models another saying I’m very familiar with: Bad things happen to good people. No spoilers here, however, you’ll have to read this book to understand this. 

The storyline is equal parts funny and poignant. The main characters are so well developed I had an entire cast list of actors that I thought would be perfect for the roles. I’m sure Brie Larson is a wonderful actress but I have pictured Emily Deschanel as Elizabeth Zott and I think Jim Parsons could easily pull off Calvin Evans. Yes, I know I am slightly typecasting both of these actors based upon their most famous roles to date, but hey, that’s what I pictured in my head while I was reading. So, I am a forever fan of Bonnie Garmus, and I will wait patiently for her next book, and the one after that, and the one after that. I highly recommend that you tuck into Lessons in Chemistry before the Apple series premiers. Check out her scallops essay while you are at it!