It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading #IMWAYR: We Are All Made of Molecules & Courage For Beginners


It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney


I had read and loved Susan Nielsen’s Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, so I was expecting another great read when an ex-student handed me We Are All Made of Molecules and said “you HAVE to read this!!!”.  She was right.  Hee’s the jacket copy:

Thirteen-year-old Stewart Inkster is academically brilliant but “ungifted” socially. Fourteen-year-old Ashley Anderson is the undisputed “It” girl of grade nine, but her marks stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. “The Brady Bunch” it isn’t. Stewart is trying to be 89.9% happy about it, but Ashley is 110% horrified. She already has to hide the truth behind her parents’ divorce; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, no matter their differences, they share one thing in common: they–like the rest of us–are all made of molecules.

Ashley and Stewart are wonderfully realized characters, and their journey through forced familyhood is both hilarious as well as touching.  Middle school life is beautifully captured in all its muddled glory: the desire to fit in, the instinct towards kindness and honesty, and the darker side of bullying and “I’ll do anything to fit in” fearfulness.  Two important events are dealt with deftly: Ashley’s father has come to realize that he is gay, and Ashley’s new boyfriend (the school’s star athlete/”hottie”) encourages her to drink and then takes compromising photographs.  It’s the second event that makes this book one I would not necessarily pass along to a sixth grader – but I thought Nielsen used this as an important teaching moment; often, we are not willing to talk to our kids about the situations they need to think about, and often that is too late.  Books such as this open the way for these important conversations, and they therefore belong in middle school bookshelves.


Courage For Beginners, by Karen Harrington, reminded me of books like  Absolutely Almost, Crenshaw, Fish in a Tree,  Reign Rain;   each of these had central characters who were wise, kind, soulful…and challenged in some unique way.  Mysti Murphy is just such a character.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy wishes she were a character in a book. If her life were fictional, she’d magically know how to deal with the fact that her best friend, Anibal Gomez, has abandoned her in favor of being a “hipster.” She’d be able to take care of everyone when her dad has to spend time in the hospital. And she’d certainly be able to change her family’s secret: that her mother never leaves the house.

Seventh grade is not turning out the way Mysti had planned. With the help of a hot-hair balloon, her new friend Rama Khan–and maybe even the heroes of the Texas Revolution–can she find the courage to change?

Mysti is too good hearted to know that even friends you’ve known forever can betray you in middle school, and too understanding to tell her parents what they need to know: twelve year olds, even mature ones, need the comfort and security of parenting.  I loved Mysti, and I loved the way that Harrington crafted Mysti’s journey to understanding and hope.  This is would make for a wonderful readaloud, and/or book club selection.


8 thoughts on “It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading #IMWAYR: We Are All Made of Molecules & Courage For Beginners

  1. Your reviews always make me want to rush right out and start reading the books you’re writing about! I’ve got Courage on my shelf but haven’t read it yet–want to remedy that soon now–and Molecules sounds like a must-read.

  2. I know about Molecules, and it’s one I’d like to read, but thanks also for Courage for Beginners. It sounds like so many serious, but well done books for younger adolescents, or just on that cusp of growing up. Thanks, Tara.

  3. I loved We are All Made of Molecules! One of our teachers is reading it to her multiage (grades 5, 6 & 7) students. I think this is the ideal age and setting to have conversations about the situation. You are so right. If we prepare them now, they won’t end up in this kind of predicament later on.

  4. I really admire Susin Nielsen for tackling difficult topics (The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, for example, talks about the aftermath of a school shooting) and handling them in a sensitive, age-appropriate way. She seems to understand that kids are exposed to all sorts of things, whether or not they are ready for it or grown-up enough, and that pretending that these sorts of things don’t happen doesn’t help prepare kids to deal with grown-up realities. Like so many great kidlit writers, she seems to get that kids are typically a lot more perceptive and aware than adults often give them credit for!

  5. I’ve been wanting to read Courage – your review makes me want to move it toward the top of my list. I haven’t heard of Molecules, but now I really want to read it. It reminds me of Goodbye Stranger. It covered the same topic, and I thought the same thing about my 6th graders, but talking about it early might be a good thing!

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