Carnegie Longlist 2016 · Carnegie Nominations 2016

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Collision theory states that ‘molecules must collide in order to react’.*  Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I like to see this theory as the basis upon which Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules is based.  It is the story of two (very different) worlds colliding, and it deals with the issues that arise in the wake of this collision.

After the death of his mother, Stewart and his dad move in with his new partner Caroline and her daughter, Ashley.  Ashley’s parents have separated, following the recent revelation that her father is in fact gay.  Stewart and Ashley could not be any more different, with the former a bright but socially-inept so-called ‘tragic’, and the latter the most popular and, arguably, meanest girl in school. This of course causes many layers of conflict as they both try to deal with the different losses, and (mostly unwanted) gains, in their lives.

Multi-award winning author Nielsen touches upon a number of different topics within this novel, looking at bereavement, blended families, homophobia and social pressures, to name but a few.  Each chapter is told, alternately, from the perspectives of Ashley and Stewart.  Throughout the novel we see Ashley’s bad behaviour through Stewart’s eyes, and then immediately switch to hear from her perspective.  We don’t always agree with or condone her reasonings, however this clever style of writing does enable the reader to get into the mind of both characters and thus empathise with them both.  It also allows us to witness the development of both characters as they gradually learn about each other and how to make each other’s lives easier, rather than a living nightmare.

The issues addressed in this book are done so with warmth and humour.  With his naïve and often hilariously oblivious nature, there were elements of Stewarts’s narrative that actually reminded me of Adrian’s musings in Susan Townsend’s Adrian Mole series.  In this way, although it touches upon perhaps some more grown-up themes, I would say that this novel is more suitable for the young teenage reader.

The molecules theme that runs throughout this story is something that I think can be taken as a comment on human nature.  To better understand each other, sometimes we need to interact with other ‘molecules’ who we might not have considered or even noticed before.  It shouldn’t matter how we are on the outside because really, we are all made of the same stuff.  I think that in today’s world of constant social pressures, especially for teenagers and young adults, these are such inspiring and important lessons for young minds.

* I am really not very scientific, therefore I had to look this up first.  Source: Boundless. “The Collision Theory.”

Reviewed by Tiff

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