Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 245 pages, $18
Boston Globe Love Letters columnist Meredith Goldstein’s first foray into young-adult fiction expectedly focuses on romance—and chemistry. At the heart of Chemistry Lessons is 17-year-old Maya, who is shocked when her boyfriend Whit breaks her heart, a heart already crushed by her mother’s death.
Luckily, Maya has pals at her MIT internship to rely on, including the witty Kyle and tenacious Yael, with who she takes “whiff walks” in the candy district of Cambridge, sniffing chocolate. Then along comes a bold, but risky possibility. Ann, a researcher, discovers a project that Maya’s scientist mother was pursuing before her death: manipulating pheromones to enhance human attraction.
In this ethically questionable and unauthorized experiment, three unknowing “subjects” should feel surprising bursts of sexy interest toward Maya: Kyle; another guy Asher, who in a fog of clueless narcissism makes YouTube videos of himself; and the real object of “scientific,” and of course romantic, inquiry, Whit. This almost Shakespearean subterfuge and mischief is an enterprise that Goldstein reports merrily. It also provides a softly loving pathway for Maya to remember her mother and her work.
Even as all three guys find an attraction to their “experimenter,” the differences between troubled love and easygoing friendship are revealed. The heart has its reasons, the laboratory knows not.
From page 137: “The truth was that Kyle was fine; he just didn’t want to deal with me. The awkwardness had improved in the two weeks since our evening together, but only enough to make us functional. We’d managed to bond over Ann when she dashed through the lab wearing thick, dark pants and her leather jacket on an eighty-degree day.
‘How is she not sweating?’ I had whispered before turning back to my work.
‘Vampires don’t sweat,’ Kyle responded, and we grinned at each other like we used to.”