Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott in Lessons in Chemistry.

If You Need a Shot of Zott, These Books Have the Same Vibe as ‘Lessons in Chemistry’

If you read a lot of novels, chances are you occasionally discover a book that’s so good it leaves you with a literary hangover. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is just such a novel.

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Just a few pages into the book it’s clear that the main character, Elizabeth Zott, is not your typical leading lady. Her no-nonsense demeanor and unwavering self reliance sets her apart from the typical rom-com heroine, particularly one who exists in the 1950s. The fact that she’s borderline obsessed with her work as a chemist also strikes a chord with many female readers who still to succeed in a patriarchal society today, decades later.

Many readers, myself included, developed a bit of a girl-crush on the determined Ms. Zott. Once the last sentence was read, we wanted more! The books below might not capture the specific chemistry of Garmus’s book (sorry), but they’ve got empowered female main characters, unexpected humor, a ton of heart, and an engaging story from start to finish.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow book cover by Gabrielle Zevin
(Knopf Publishing Group)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows the trajectory of main characters Sam Masur and Sadie Green, two brilliant young minds who meet in a children’s hospital and wind up becoming lifelong friends and work partners. The book spans several decades and centers on the video gaming industry, with a dash of internet start-up culture thrown in for good measure.

Sam and Sadie develop several video games together and become famous for their work, but their success comes at a cost. Throughout the novel, Sadie hits the glass ceiling while Sam becomes a voice of his generation. Readers can feel her frustration, and we root for her when she finally starts taking the reins and making her own decisions, no matter who she annoys in the process.

It’s a book about gaming, yes, but also so much more. By the time you get to the startling final chapters, you’ll feel like Sam, Sadie, and everyone else in this universe are more than just characters—they’re friends.

Neon pink lettering on blue background spell out Catherine Steadman "The Family Game" book cover.
(Ballantine Books)

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

Meeting your future in-laws is usually a nerve-racking experience, but this book takes rites of passage like this one to the next level. The main character is Harriet, who goes by Harry, and she’s a budding novelist who is poised to become exceedingly famous. Her life seems pretty perfect—aside from her career, she just got engaged to a filthy rich man, Edward Holbeck, who seems to adore her.

Once the engagement ring is on, however, Harry can no longer avoid getting to know the Holbeck clan. Her phone starts ringing off the hook with invitations to family events, each one stranger and more sinister than the last. At the first of these family gatherings, patriarch Robert Holbeck slips a cassette tape into Harry’s hand, revealing a twisted web of family secrets that’s as chilling as it is engrossing.

There’s a scene involving the Krampus that’s sure to leave you breathless, but the real strength of the story lies in Harry’s ability to solve the mystery of the Holbeck’s horrible legacy—and live to see the next day.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

book cover featuring blonde woman wearing a green dress. Text says The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
(Blackstone Publishing)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a great example of how author Taylor Jenkins Reid plucks storylines from Hollywood legends and lore. The leading lady is Evelyn Hugo, a rags-to-riches actress who rises to the top of the Hollywood elite, becoming an Elizabeth Taylor-like public figure who chews up scenery, spits out nails, and leaves a trail of exes in her wake.

At age 79 she’s finally ready to tell her life story, even the deeply closeted parts few people know about. For reasons we don’t learn until the final pages, Evelyn chooses an unknown struggling young writer named Monique Grant to bestow her valuable life story upon. Through their interview sessions, Evelyn reveals herself to be a smart, capable, and fiery character whose secrets change Monique’s entire life and worldview.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

book cover for Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. Image shows woman with big sunglasses standing before a mountain peak
(Little, Brown and Company)

Main character Bernadette Fox marches to the beat of her own drummer. A brilliant architect turned agoraphobic, she gives up her stellar L.A. career to move to Seattle with her husband, who’s a Steve Jobs-like big wig at Microsoft. Bernadette’s a loving mom to her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, but she can’t be bothered to make repairs to their palatial, constantly-leaking home (a former convent), goes out of her way to be cantankerous to the other moms at her daughter’s school, and isn’t ashamed to rock a fisherman’s vest just because she likes having lots of pockets.

When things get sticky in her personal life, Bernadette reacts by disappearing into thin air. Her family tracks her down in Antarctica, where a tricky design problem captures her attention, breaks her out of her shell, and restores her creativity and zest for life.

Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes

Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes book cover. Blue font on pink background
(Pamela Dorman Books)

You can always count on Jojo Moyes for a few laughs and a lot of heart, and this book is a great example of her work. The story revolves around Sam Kemp, a sad sack who gets pushed around by the awful men at her office and whose husband does nothing but mope around the house. She’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders, so when she accidentally takes home the wrong gym bag and has to wear a ridiculous pair of 6-inch Christian Louboutin heels to a work event, everything changes.

The shoes give Sam the boost of confidence she desperately needs. The only problem is the shoe’s rightful owner, Nisha Cantor, a rich lady whose fortune recently went the way of the dodo thanks to her cheating husband. When the two characters come together, they discover they have more than enough power to change their lousy situations all by themselves.

The Change by Kirsten Miller

orange and black stripes that form a woman's face. Text says "The Change" by Kirsten Miller
(William Morrow Paperbacks)

This book’s publisher describes it asBig Little Lies meets The Witches of Eastwick.” Need we say more?

Three very different women living on Long Island come into their power, in more ways than one. Jo, Nessa, and Harriet are all hitting menopause, but along with hot flashes and mood swings they’re each coming into some new abilities as well. Nessa’s psychic powers kick in, and the voices she hears lead her to uncover a horrifying secret hidden under the surface of their beachside community. Meanwhile, Harriet becomes one with nature, using it to do her bidding and take revenge on all the dirtbags who have failed her, and Jo turns her hot flashes into something much more powerful … and painful.

The Change is a story about discovering the power of our femininity, and learning how to use it.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

blue background with woman in yellow dress looking over shoulder at man in white shirt. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne cover
(HarperCollins Publishing)

Lucy is the Leslie Knope of the publishing company where she works. She spends her days keeping her boss organized and finding quiet ways to sabotage her oh-so-perfect coworker, Josh, who is as handsome as he is irritating. The tension rises as Lucy realizes she is attracted to Josh, but the hate she feels for him is also very, very real.

When a work event goes awry, Lucy finds herself closer to Josh than she ever intended to get. The author builds the tension between them until it’s physically painful for the reader, yet both characters must make their own emotional progress separately, not together. The reader is begging for them to get together by the end, but the most satisfying part of the book has to be when spunky Lucy stands up for Josh when he needs it most.

You Shouldn’t Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose

illustration of a remote home in a wooded area. You Shouldn't Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose
(Blackstone Publishing)

Every year, Grace Evans flees her hectic life in New York City to experience the quiet life in some far-flung location. This year, she chose an AirBnb in Wyoming, far away from prying eyes … and cell phone service. She quickly forms a bond with her host, the handsome Calvin Well, and they seem poised to become more than friends when things suddenly go sideways.

A woman has gone missing, and Calvin starts acting suspiciously. Grace uncovers a series of lies, but it turns out she’s hiding a secret of her own. And it’s a doozy.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

cartoon image of a man and woman reading books with their backs to one another, but they are holding hands. Book Lovers by Emily Henry
(Berkley)

Literary agent Nora takes a trip to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina with her pregnant sister Libby, and the pair discover a small town that’s straight out of a Hallmark movie. If that sounds like a stereotype, you’re right. This novel relies heavily on typical romantic comedy tropes, but through her excellent prose, author Emily Henry manages to give the reader a knowing wink to let us know she’s in on the joke.

Nora runs into Charlie, a man she knows (and dislikes) from work, and is suddenly thrust into an effort to save his parents’ struggling small town bookstore. As the romantic tension between Nora and Charlie builds, the book’s focus turns to Libby, who is hiding a secret. There’s just enough sisterhood and jokes to make this book a feel good novel you won’t want to end.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

cartoon of a woman from the neck down. She's wearing a yellow top and brown skirt. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
(Penguin Books)

Spoiler alert: Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine.

The main character of this book is as screwed up as she is endearing. A social outcast who blurts out the first thing that comes to her mind, Eleanor has no idea how to make friends or get along in the world. She keeps to herself, drinking herself into oblivion on weekends and spending a lot of time on the phone with her Mummy.

Then, she crosses paths with an IT guy at work named Raymond. Raymond is also socially inept, yet he’s still kinder and more in tune with the world than Eleanor. Together they help an elderly man after he falls in the street, and they all form an unlikely friendship that lifts her from her solitary life and helps her realize there’s a lot more to life than drinking alone.

This is a book that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt alone in the world. It’s about the connections we form when we allow ourselves to accept love and friendship. Elizabeth Zott would approve.

(featured image: AppleTV+)


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Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.