Weike Wang's beguiling first novel, Chemistry, opens with a marriage proposal from the narrator's attentive boyfriend, Eric: "Ask me again tomorrow, she says, and he says, that's not how this works." They met in a prestigious chemistry Ph.D. program in Boston. Eric is focused and insightful, leading his lab team to success; the narrator's best efforts fail and fail again. The only child of driven, judgmental Chinese immigrants who settled in Detroit with nothing, she isn't allowed to fail. Frustrated to the point of anguish, she smashes her lab beakers and exits the program. So begins the funny, idiosyncratic story of a young woman with big brains, big family baggage and a wonderfully fresh voice sorting out a world of science, language, dogs, counseling therapy, a BFF and her baby, SAT tutoring, Boston weather, cases of wine, TV cooking shows--and piecing together the right chemistry in her life.

With an undergraduate chemistry degree and a public health Ph.D. underway, Wang has no lack of over-bleached lab coats in her closet. Her narrator spices her daily ups and downs with a little bit of science here, a Chinese language oddity there, shrink-talk and a running stream of observations about parents and child- and dog-rearing. "We've mapped the entire human genome but don't know what most of it says."

Wang has an astute feel for the deep, scary uncertainties of a young, talented woman trying to shake off a demanding family and a derailed career and relationship. Chemistry is full of surprises--its many digressions congealing to yield an impressive literary blend. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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