I fell in love with Weike Wang’s unnamed protagonist long before I ever fully understood the character’s motives. There’s just something about her which makes it impossible not to adore her. Sometimes when she’s upset, she smashes beakers. She always measures her paychecks in pizzas, not dollars. She thinks her dog is a cat even though she knows he’s clearly a dog and he knows he’s clearly a dog but for some reason he still continues to act like a cat. She likes to watch “Mad Max” late at night because all the machine guns make her feel tough. She drinks a little too much. She tells the students she tutors they’re improving even when they’re not. But best of all, in order to better comprehend her recent break-up, strife-ridden relationship with her parents, and abandonment of her PhD in chemistry, this young woman turns to comic lyricism combined with a resounding capacity to analogize science upon the everyday. Whether it’s her depression, ambivalence, or genuine confusion, the protagonist of Weike Wang’s Chemistry tackles those convoluted, problematic systems of human interaction with austere wit and genuine honesty.
“The unnamed narrator of Wang's winning and insightful novel is working on her PhD in synthetic organic chemistry, but the chemistry she really needs to learn is the one that makes relationships click. The prodigy daughter of high-achieving Chinese American parents, she's always strived to meet their demanding expectations. Then, suddenly, she just can't. Her lab work falters. She's unable to accept or decline her boyfriend's marriage proposal. But when she has a breakdown and loses in both academia and in love, she finally realizes how angry she is. Coming to terms with her past becomes her next project, and soon she can see her parents in a new light - and they aren't the fierce tiger couple they'd always seemed to be.”
— Laurie Greer (E), Politics & Prose Books and Coffee Shop, Washington, DC
Summer 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
“What a delight. In the first few pages, you’ll be struck by the unusual narrative voice; after a few pages more, you’ll be absolutely hooked. There’s so much comedy in this story, about a young chemist navigating the pressures of her academic field along with the confusion of her first serious adult romance, but it’s deliciously dry, sly humor. Give a copy to every high-achieving, socially awkward person you know—and all the people who love them.”
— Mary Laura Philpott, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
A Washington Post Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Ann Patchett on PBS NewsHour, Minnesota Public Radio, PopSugar, Maris Kreizman, The Morning News
Winner of Ploughshares’ John C. Zacharis Award
Winner of a Whiting Award
A Belletrist Amuse Book
At first glance, the quirky, overworked narrator of Weike Wang’s debut novel seems to be on the cusp of a perfect life: she is studying for a prestigious PhD in chemistry that will make her Chinese parents proud (or at least satisfied), and her successful, supportive boyfriend has just proposed to her. But instead of feeling hopeful, she is wracked with ambivalence: the long, demanding hours at the lab have created an exquisite pressure cooker, and she doesn’t know how to answer the marriage question. When it all becomes too much and her life plan veers off course, she finds herself on a new path of discoveries about everything she thought she knew. Smart, moving, and always funny, this unique coming-of-age story is certain to evoke a winning reaction.
About the Author
Weike Wangis a graduate of Harvard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her doctorate in public health. Her first novel, Chemistry, received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, Ploughshares' John C. Zacharis Award, and a Whiting Award. A “5 Under 35” honoree of the National Book Foundation, Weike currently lives in New York City.
“A comic and often precarious journey. . . . Told in a hilarious deadpan that recalls Gish Jen and Nora Ephron.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Winningly original. . . . Pithy, casually brilliant. . . . So fresh and intimate and mordantly funny that she feels less like fiction than a friend you’ve known forever.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The most assured novel about indecisiveness you’ll ever read. . . . An emotionally devastating novel about being young today.” —The Washington Post
“Endearing. . . . [Has] generous measures of humor and emotion.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Starts as a charming confection and then proceeds to add on layers of emotional depth and complexity with every page. . . . I loved this novel.” —Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
“Told in short, penetrating bursts, the book is frequently mordantly funny and gets under your skin in a way that makes you really root for the narrator.” —Chicago Tribune
“Funny, original, compelling. . . . In a word, this debut is: elemental.” —Amy Hempel
“A genuine piece of literature: wise, humorous, and moving.” —Ha Jin, National Book Award–winning author of Waiting
“[An] outstanding debut. . . . Chemistry may be the funniest novel ever written about living with depression.” —People
“With its limpid style, comic verve, and sensitive examination of love, need, and aspiration, this exquisitely soul-searching novel is sure to be one of the most outstanding debuts of the year.” —Sigrid Nunez
“Gemlike. . . . Slim enough to be wolfed down in one sitting, yet rich enough to merit an immediate re-read.” —Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
“A poignant tale of self-discovery that anyone who’s ever felt a little lost will relate to.” —Buzzfeed
“You won’t need a science background to fall in love with this contemplative debut novel.. . . Insightful (and always entertaining).” —Paste
“A funny, wise debut about the heartache of uncertainty and the struggle to please others while forging one’s own path.” —Nando Pelusi, Psychology Today
“Mesmerizing. . . . Illuminat[es] a corner of the human experience that’s woefully underexplored. By the last page I was devastated, transported, and craving more.” —Emily Gould, author of Friendship
“Chemistry (appropriately enough) explodes the stereotype of the model minority. Wang’s voice is a revelation.” —Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes
Subscribe to our Newsletter!