From a literary perspective, Lessons in Chemistry is not the best book I’ve ever read, but the story is so engaging that you won’t care. Yes, I know it’s incredibly popular.
The story is a kind of feminist fairy tale set in the early sixties. As readers, we can see how far we have come from the days that women were suspect for even wanting to be in the workplace. In addition, we feel that there is hope for those of us who stand up for who we are.
Garmus supports the story of Elizabeth Zott with an engaging array of characters. To be honest, my biggest disappointment is that Garmus wraps up the story so thoroughly because I really wanted to know more about all of the characters. Maybe she’ll make this a series?
Table of Contents
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Have you ever felt doors were closed to women?
What do you know about the expectations for women in the mid twentieth century, when this novel is set?
How have things changed, and how have they not changed?
What do you think about Elizabeth’s refusal to get married?
What is the point of Elizabeth’s decision to redesign her kitchen as a chemistry lab (other than the fact that a chemist would want a lab)?
How do you feel about Mad Zott? How would you feel about her if she were your classmate?
(spoiler alert) How did you feel about Elizabeth’s decision to end “Supper at Six”?
What gender issues are addressed through these supporting characters: Harriet Sloane, Miss Frask, and Walter Pine?
Garmus set Lessons in Chemistry in the early 60’s. How are attitudes toward women in the workplace the same and different in 2023?
Who is Bonnie Garmus?
Bonnie Garmus is a copywriter, and Lessons in Chemistry is her first book. Although she’s not a scientist, she has worked on writing a science book.
She HAS rowed competitively, and her dog’s name is 99.
Background on Lessons in Chemistry
The irony of Lessons in Chemistry that Garmus never mentions is that home economics was a back door into science for women for most of the twentieth century! Once you’ve finished the novel, read the real story in The Secret History of Home Economics.
Don’t forget to check out this great guide from Marmalade and Mustardseed for discussion of other issues in this book.