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We Are Family

No matter how smart or popular anyone is, Susin Nielsen's middle grade contemporary is a reminder that We Are All Made of Molecules.

We Are Family

BOOK REPORT for We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Cover Story: Jesse Pinkman
BFF Charm: Big Sister x 2
Swoonworthy Scale: 2 + (-2)
Talky Talk: He Said, She Said
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ, Blended Family, Loyal Pet, Vancouver
Relationship Status: Grinch Repellent

Cover Story: Jesse Pinkman

This is really more of a Montell Jordan, but I rarely get to trot out Jesse Pinkman, so I'm going to do so at every chance I get.

My absolute favourite part of Minna So's gorgeous watercolour cover is the teeny cat doodle in honour of Stewart's beloved pet, which also shows up in the narration identifiers* of his chapters!

*What are those things even called? I spent seriously too much time (OK, like five minutes) trying to figure out what they're named, to no avail.

The Deal:

Thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley could not be any more different. He's a brainiac in class, but he's kind of socially awkward; meanwhile, she's the most popular girl in her grade, but she isn't exactly book smart. The only link that connects these two is their address: Stewart and his dad just moved in with Ashley and her mom. Well, that and the molecules that everyone is made of -- as unlikely as it might seem to Stewart and Ashley that they even have that in common.

BFF Charm: Big Sister x 2

Oh, Stewart! You are so sweet and positive, even when life isn't always so easy for you. And neither is picking up on social cues, but I'm proud of you for working on that. May you never lose your sense of wonder or curiosity, because your world view is something that should be nurtured and cherished.

Real talk: I found Ashley to be a bit terrifying when I first met her. A Regina George in training, Ashley has a twisted and ruthless perception of friendship and popularity. But in a disturbing yet fascinating way -- like, how does anybody's mind even work like that? Thankfully, instead of being a psychopath in the making,** Ashley is slowly but surely becoming a better person, and seeing how far she's come along really makes her growth that much more rewarding.

**Well, I mean, that's a fine premise for a book. But this is not that book.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2 + (-2)

Stewart is cutely smitten with his classmate Phoebe, who's charmed by his cheesy nerdy jokes. Then there's Ashley, who has her sights set on the seemingly perfect Jared. But, of course, he isn't, no matter how much Ashley tries to overlook his flaws -- of which there are many, huge, and glaring -- and fit him into her fantasy life. (Who hasn't been there, amirite?)

Talky Talk: He Said, She Said

Switching effortlessly between her two narrators and infusing humour into both perspectives, Susin Nielsen is equally at ease with Stewart's science geekery and poop talk, and Ashley's matter-of-fact boasting and abundant malapropisms. And it shouldn't be surprising that Nielsen is so adept at writing young characters; in addition to having written several books, she's also penned a bunch of episodes of Canadian teen shows incl. Degrassi! (Although, according to her bio, she has never met Wheelchair Jimmy Drake.)

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Ashley keeps the reason behind her parents' divorce on the DL, because letting anyone know that her dad is gay would tarnish her image. And she's not worrying for nothing, because some of her peers are buttheads when it comes to homosexuality. This storyline feels like the product of another time -- like ten or fifteen years ago, esp. for a left-leaning province in a country that's had marriage equality for a decade. But, as we're constantly seeing in the news (and sometimes our own newsfeeds), bigotry is not yet extinct in even the most progressive of places. 

Bonus Factor: Blended Family

Stewart's dad and Ashley's mom aren't married (or even concerned about that at all), but they're effectively creating a new family together by living under the same roof -- and with Ashley's dad living in the laneway house in the backyard. Even though the adults generally get along, they all still need to adapt to this new parenting arrangement, esp. when dealing with how to parent -- or butt out of parenting -- their partner's kid.

On the kid front, Stewart likes his de facto stepmother, but he can't help feeling conflicted between accepting her and preserving the love for his dearly departed mother. Ashley might be having even more trouble adjusting, to both the presence of perceived interlopers in her home, and the fractured relationship with her father -- who not only broke up her picturesque family, but had been concealing such a big part of himself from her.

If this all sounds a bit messy, that's because it is. But it's also kind of beautiful to see how love is bringing -- and keeping -- these people together. Captain & Tennille were right all along! (Sort of.)

P.S. I've never watched The Brady Bunch, but does Greg always look so... unsettling? At least in this photo, he's like one of those creepy photobombs amidst a sea of toothy grins.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

Having Schrödinger the cat has helped Stewart cope with life without his mother; the way Stewart describes what Schrödinger means to him is heartbreakingly adorbs. But for Ashley, the cat's unique moniker provides ample opportunities for her to hilariously mangle his name.

Bonus Factor: Vancouver

Hey, it's the filming location of many a CW show -- and it gets to be itself for a change! I always enjoy visiting Vancouver, so it was super neat to catch the many references to this wonderful city.*** The main cast might be mostly white, but the supporting and minor characters def. reflect Vancouver's racial diversity (i.e., about half are persons of colour).

***Except with way less food than my typical Vancouver experience, obvs. My itineraries are basically menus. 

Casting Call:

David Mazouz as Stewart

Sabrina Carpenter as Ashley

Josh Radnor as Leonard, Stewart's dad

Because casting Johhny Galecki would have been too on-the-nose.

Jessica Chastain as Caroline, Ashley's mother

I know I'm doing the Hollywood thing of casting far too young for parental roles, but La Chastain is exactly who I pictured for the wry and whip-smart Caroline. (Shockingly, she actually is old enough to be the mother of a young teen.)

Bradley Cooper as Phil, Ashley's father

I'll be honest: I pictured, like, a real-life gorgeous blond Ken doll. (And now I have a sad because Google Images made me realize who I was thinking of.) I also considered casting a Canadian Ryan, but Bradley feels like a better fit.

Charles Michael Davis as Michael, Phil's boyfriend

I initially misread Ashley's description of Michael as the most handsome man she had ever seen, but CMD still works when I'm capable of reading comprehension.

Relationship Status: Grinch Repellent

This book is like a warm hug on a winter's day. It filled my heart with hope, laughter, and love -- and, for that, I'm truly thankful.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from my local library; libraries are awesome! I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). We Are All Made of Molecules is available now.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.