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Beautiful, unconventional intellectual Elizabeth Zott and lonely, athletic genius Calvin Evans have survived childhood trauma and loneliness and found happiness. The talented young midcentury scientists have "actual chemistry" — and the toxic envy of their colleagues at the Hastings Research Institute in Commons, Calif. Despite her love for Calvin, Elizabeth doesn't want to get married, and after Calvin's untimely death she finds herself pregnant and unemployed.

A few years later, now a single mother to precocious Madeline, Elizabeth scrapes by charging scientists at Hastings to solve their problems in her home lab. When she learns a girl at Madeline's school is eating her daughter's lunch, Elizabeth confronts the young thief's TV producer father and gets a job offer: hosting a cooking show during the "Afternoon Depression Zone."

Elizabeth insists on respecting her audience's intelligence, and "Supper at Six" becomes a hit. Yet Elizabeth can't shake her profound sadness, and Madeline's relentless search for the truth about her family tree threatens to reveal long held secrets.

Seattle native and debut novelist Bonnie Garmus, a copywriter and creative director and rower now living in London, presents a rollicking feminist tale full of humor and hope even as she doesn't shy away from life's ugliness. Clever and sharp, "Lessons in Chemistry" has a winning formula.

Intrigued by the colorful characters and still missing "Mad Men"? Apple TV is planning a series with "Captain Marvel" star Brie Larson.

Marci Schmitt is a Star Tribune editor.

Lessons in Chemistry

By: Bonnie Garmus.

Publisher: Doubleday, 400 pages, $29.