"You must love chemistry unconditionally."
When we meet the narrator of Weike Wang's taut debut novel, this is the credo she's striven to follow for most of her life. But now, three years into a graduate program at a demanding Boston university, she finds her onetime love for chemistry to be more hypothesis than reality. She is frustrated by reminders of her failed research from her peers, her advisor, and most of all her Chinese parents, who have expected nothing short of excellence from her since she was young. On top of all this looms the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding her own success.
The pressure of these volatile elements eventually mounts so high that she has no choice but to leave behind everything she thought she knew about her future — and herself. And for the first time, she's confronted with a problem she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want?
Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry — one in which the reactions can't be quantified and analyzed. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a vibrant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the sacrifices made for love and family, and the anxieties of finding your place in the world.