Our January book club pick was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. It’s the story of two broken families, trying to form a new whole one, but everyone brings their own set of issues. To a lot of us the book felt a little more middle grade than YA, but many of our book clubbers still really enjoyed it. Today we’ll recommend two books you might want to read if you enjoyed We Are All Made of Molecules and we’ll end with some discussion questions in case you talk about this book with your own book club.
Still Life With Tornado
“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”
Actually, Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.
But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.
“I am a human being. I am sixteen years old. That should be enough.”
A Complicated Kindness
“Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing,” Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.
This darkly funny novel is the world according to Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi’s droll, refreshing voice, we’re told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known. A work of fierce humor and tragedy by a writer who has taken the American market by storm, readers will find this searing, tender, comic testament to family love difficult to forget.
- We Are All Made of Molecules is told through the perspective of both Stewart and Ashley. Did this work for you and why would the author decide to show us the thoughts of both characters?
- The book has graphs and charts. What did these add for you to the story?
- The book often jokes about Ashley not being too smart. Was her character believable or was it more of a caricature?
- Do you agree with Ashley that molecules are icky?