Monday, June 18, 2018

Love Potion No. 9: Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein

Whit took a deep breath and tilted his head forward so that our foreheads touched. I took in his blue eyes and thick red hair, the genetic combination that made him such an unusual Punnett square.

"I've met someone else," he said.

Except for the last year's death of her mother, Maya's life has been going as planned. She's got a scholarship in chemistry at MIT, a private room in her chosen dorm reserved, an internship at the lab where her Mom had worked, friends Bryan, Kyle, and Yael to hang out with, and the perfect boyfriend--Whit.

Except that now, she apparently doesn't have Whit.

Maya is blindsided by Whit's dumping her for another girl, someone she even knows, one who's in her friend Bryan's Shakespeare Company in rehearsal for "All's Well That Ends Well." She'd thought she'd be with Whit forever. She can't imagine a future without him. And then her mom's sister mentions the private research her mother was working on before she died.

"You should have had your mother around for your first breakup," said Cindy.

"I'm not sure Mom would really have understood," I told Cindy. "Dad was her first love. She never had a first big breakup."

Cindy leaned forward. "This is what your mom was doing before she died, right? Trying to make love last?"

Maya finds the private notebook her mom had insisted was to come to her. Inside are her mom's records on research on the effect of pheromones on different genotypes. It seems her mother had been taking intensified pheromones tailored to her father's DNA and measuring his reactions. They were clearly positive. It seems to Maya that her mother had been on the way to creating a successful formula--a "Love Potion No.9." . Maya meets privately with Ann, her mother's graduate lab assistance, and offers herself as a subject to continue the research. Ann is intrigued with the possibility for original research leading to a dissertation and insists on setting up the experiment with three trials, one with a platonic male friend, one with a stranger, and then--Maya's real reason--the last trial on Whit to see if her customized pheromones will win him back.

Maya manages to collect a specimen for her first trial--a soft drink cup used by her childhood buddy Kyle. Ann processes his DNA and prepares custom-crafted doses of pheromones for Maya to take for three days. Her temperature goes up a degree, just as her mother's observations predicted, and when she invites Kyle to come over to watch a movie, things between the two old friends get surprisingly heated, so much so that they are both astounded and embarrassed. A second trial with conceited teen-aged YouTube star, Asher Forman, starring with Bryan in "All's Well That Ends Well," gets quite a response. Maya is not at all turned on, but Asher definitely is. Maya is a bit shaken by the strength of the reactions she is getting. But isn't that what she wanted?

And now it's time for a trial of her intensified pheromones on Whit.

In a what turns out to be a very Shakespearean plot, there is a perfect storyline twist of which even the Bard himself would have approved.

All's well that ends well, indeed, in Meredith Goldstein's forthcoming Chemistry Lessons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), a young adult novel which is both a light teen romance with a spritz of science and a bit of a coming-of-age story in which Maya comes to terms with her mother's death, her father's grief, and her own new understanding of the importance of the interplay between friendship and romance, perhaps the essence of real love. Despite bouts of teen angst over being dumped, Maya is a smart, resilient, and upbeat seventeen year old who, refusing to languish over lost love, instead turns to her long suit, science, to get her guy back, learning along the way the truth of the Rolling Stones' old song lyric: "You can't always get what you want...but if you try sometime... you get what you need."

Goldstein's romance novel is well scripted, with touches of tragedy and comedy, charmingly awash in the scholarly scenes and scents of its setting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with an intriguing bit of science to move the plot. Maya may get her guy, but perhaps not the one she expects, because, although pheromones do play a role in attraction, happily the secrets of lasting love remain a mystery. And as that other old song says, "That's the story of, that's the glory of... love!"

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