Review: Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein
‘The truth was that it was about Whit and Kyle, and about lying to friends and wishing I could travel back in time to the start of the summer, when everything felt normal. It was about Bryan going to college five hours away. It was about people disappearing.’
When Maya’s boyfriend Whit breaks up with her, she’s heartbroken. They were planning to sleep together for the first time in a matter of weeks, and now he’s leaving her for Andrea Berger?! This is not the way her last summer before college was supposed to go.
Maya confides in her Aunt Cindy, who suggests that she look into the research her mom was doing just before she died. Turns out that Maya’s mom was trying to develop a serum that would renew attraction in couples, making it less likely that they would separate.
After she discovers the research, Maya runs straight to her mom’s old work partner, Ann. Ann begrudgingly agrees to continue Maya’s mom’s research, on the condition that Maya find a friend and a stranger that they can use the serum on as control subjects. Maya is overjoyed. In a couple of weeks, she’ll be able to remind Whit of why he fell in love with her in the first place, and everything will be back to the way it should be…
Chemistry Lessons was a huge disappointment. I will admit that I was primarily drawn to it because of its beautiful cover, but the concept of a serum that could fix relationships was an intriguing one. However, I couldn’t see past how unethical Maya’s research is. Her and Ann develop three serums using DNA from the test subjects, but none of them are notified about the experiment. Stealing people’s DNA? Not only is that creepy, it’s seven shades of wrong.
This is paint by numbers YA. So many of the scenes were ripped straight out of other stories – the stereotypical description of the abandoned attic, the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ excuse for ending the relationship… There’s nothing new about this book (apart from being based in science, which I’ve already told you I have problems with). Top it off with a gay best friend who’s about to move across the country to college, a swoony YouTube star and a friend who could be more, and you’ve got one of the most predictable cast lists.
It doesn’t help that the writing is basic and undeveloped. All the characters are described in very basic ways: brown hair, brown eyes; red hair, blue eyes; six foot one, five foot two. You can’t get emotionally attached to the characters because they’re flat. Even Maya’s feelings towards her dead mother are bland. Then there’s the use of vocabulary, which features more uses of the word ‘like’ than you can shake a stick at. Yes, people do say ‘like’ in real life, but not often in every single sentence.
However, Bryan is a gem of a character. Sassy and sarcastic, he had me giggling out loud at a few points throughout the story (especially with his inappropriate attraction to Maya’s dad!). If Meredith Goldstein decides to write a companion novel following Bryan to Syracuse, I’ll definitely pick it up.
If you’re looking to read a YA contemporary that’s a bit on the older side, Chemistry Lessons might appeal to you. With characters worrying about going to college and moving away from home, it’s refreshing to see those kind of aspects featured in a YA contemporary. Unfortunately there were too many issues for me to rate it any more highly, but if you can see past the unethical nature of the experiment you might have a bit more fun reading Chemistry Lessons than I did.
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