Book ’em, Nerd-O: Chemistry

Alright, friends, get ready for some good ol’ fashioned fangirling! Today, I want to talk about my latest book obsession — Chemistry, by C.L. Lynch.

Cover art for Chemistry

Image credit: One Tall Tree Press

As one glance at the book cover will tell you, Chemistry is a parody of Twilight, but with zombies this time instead of vampires. Or at least, that’s how it started out — as the author notes in her Goodreads profile, she set out to write a book that was the exact opposite of Twilight, and the characters took on a life (er…undeath, in some cases) of their own. What is on its surface a goofy satire of Twilight that plays for laughs is in actuality a book with more depth, heart, and well-rounded characters than I’ve chanced across in quite some time.

Our heroine is Stella Blunt, a tall, curvy, brash, and supremely confident junior in high school. After Stella’s mom gets her dream job, Stella is forced to move across the country (Canada, in particular) with her parents, to Vancouver, British Columbia. To Stella, the move might as well be the end of the world — to say she doesn’t make friends easily is a vast understatement, and she dreads trying to fit somewhere into an unknown social sphere. At first, it’s just as bad as she fears — the students at her new school bully her relentlessly from the start (not that she puts up with it in the slightest, but this doesn’t even seem to slow them down). But then, she comes across Howard Mullins (known by all as Howie) in her chemistry class, and life as she knows it changes still further.

As soon as Stella sits down beside Howie, he can’t keep his eyes off her. His relentless yet unassuming adoration intrigues Stella, and she forms a tentative, curious friendship with him. She discovers that he is unfailingly sweet, if a little slow when he hasn’t eaten in a while, and full of an old-fashioned charm the likes of which she’s never seen. His pallid complexion, monotone voice, and lurching gait confuse her at first, so she does some research — and finds out that Howie, along with his father, brother, and sister, are all zombies. They eat brains (from animals only, of course) and inject themselves with formaldehyde on the reg in order to stay functioning/semi-normal, and to keep the virus from progressing or making them contagious. Naturally, Stella finds this beyond strange, but by the time she finds out, she’s gotten to know Howie well enough to know that he’s a rare gem, virus or no virus — and that she’s crushing on him, hard. Love quickly blossoms between them — but will it be enough to carry them through all the dangers and difficulties that lie ahead?

As I mentioned, this book is indeed a parody of Twilight, but to limit it to that would do it a disservice. More than just a feminist response to Twilight, Chemistry is a compelling feminist work that can stand on its own two feet. Thus, to my thinking, reading Twilight before reading Chemistry is only necessary for deriving maximum enjoyment from the jokes throughout the book — certainly not for enjoying the book as a whole. Not only does the story take every potentially questionable part of Twilight and stand it on its head, as well as elegantly fill in every plot hole that tripped up Twilight, its characters understand what feminism really is (i.e., what true equity, agency, and respect really mean) — and it manages to communicate this without sounding preachy, which was refreshing as all get-out.

Beyond this, the characters in this book are just fantastic. I believe we’ve noted in past reviews that there seems to be a trend among a lot of fiction these days where the protagonist of the story is totally flat and uninteresting, while being surrounded by loads of great side characters, all of whose stories we’d much rather read than the main character’s. So much of the time (especially with stuff that’s written in first-person POV), the protagonist is nothing more than a benign lens through which to view the story happening around them. That’s definitely the case for the material Chemistry is inspired by, and it’s something I’ve run into more times than I care to count. Because of this, finding a protagonist who actually feels like a real, multi-faceted, actually interesting human being in a book that I expected to be all goofiness and absurdity, well — it blew my tiny little mind, you guys.

And Stella, magnificent as she is, isn’t the only great character in this story. Howie is an absolute delight (beautiful cinnamon roll too good for this world, too pure), and is the kind of sweet, respectful, capable male protagonist I want to see way more of. Almost all of the side characters have a compelling persona and backstory, everybody’s motivations feel well-founded and understandable, and the majority of them go through some level of believable character development.

As much as I could continue gushing about this book for ages, I do have a couple of critiques — the most prominent one, for me, was the way Stella’s new classmates take to brutally bullying her right away. Like, they are instantly peppering her with fat jokes and mean, snide comments. Now, it’s been a little while since I was in high school, so maybe the memory is slightly less seared onto my brain, but it seemed a little implausible coming from students who didn’t know Stella or have any sort of history with her. I’ll grant you that kids can sometimes be jerkwads for no reason, and for the purposes of this story, it worked okay, but it felt like a lot to swallow at some points. This behavior is partially explained by the fact that Stella draws attention not so much because she’s tall and plus-size, but more so because of the sheer force of her personality (which is considerable). Basically, her peers are threatened by her way of owning whatever room she walks into, so they lash out at her. This goes some distance toward explaining why Stella’s classmates are so hostile, but it still felt over-the-top to me at times.

Another thing I noticed is that the reader is sometimes asked to suspend disbelief just a smidge too far, or sometimes a moment goes a step past the point of no return in terms of cheesiness. These moments are few, and easily forgivable in the larger scheme of the plot, but there were a couple of points where it was enough to give me pause and pull me back out of the story a bit. But then I reminded myself I was reading satire, and that it all serves the larger purpose, and I dove back in to the amazingness.

Lastly — and this isn’t a flaw so much as a heads up — the content often veers toward the very mature (swear words and sex talk and violence, oh my!) — I didn’t find it too much to swallow, but some readers might, and it was enough that I’d be hesitant to call this book a straight-up Young Adult novel, even though it’s billed as such. I would maybe recommend it to a mature 17- or 18-year-old, but that’s a pretty hard maybe. Basically, use your judgement–if this sort of stuff tends to be a bit much for you, approach with caution.

Despite these things, though, I pretty much enjoyed every minute of this book. The powerful combination of fantastic characters I wish I could befriend in real life, a ton of refreshing themes, and a pace that doesn’t let up, this book was exactly what I wanted to read right now, and nearly impossible to put down. It had so many of the tropes and themes I want to see more of, like the soft action boy (listen, I know this is barely a thing, but I’m trying to make it a thing, so there), the BBW, great platonic friendships, and some really great, non-token-y representation. Basically, it did a lot of the things I love to see a story doing, and beyond that, it was a straight up blast, and I already kinda want to re-read it (and I definitely want to do fan art of it).

After finishing Chemistry, I was beyond stoked to find that History, the second book in the series, is out now too, and I promptly devoured it as well (I may do a separate review of it later, but I’m still deciding…with the way it plays out, it’d be a challenge to review it without dropping some major spoilers, and I am morally opposed to spoilers). There’s a third book, Biology, in the works as well, but Chemistry just came out in 2016, and History in December of 2017 (fresh as fresh gets, y’all!), so needless to say, it’ll be awhile. And I shall be waiting with bated breath until it’s out!

Love or hate Twilight, would you read Chemistry? If you’ve read it, what did you like and/or dislike about it? What popular book would you love to see someone do a parody of?

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