Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK, Walker Books US
Where did you get this book: Review Copy from UK publisher
Release Date UK: April 1, 2010.
Release Date US: Released now.

Blurb taken from Simon and Schuster UK:

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. Forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, Brittany finds herself having to protect everything she’s worked so hard for – her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend and, most importantly, the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But the closer Alex and Brittany get to each other the more they realise that sometimes appearances can be deceptive and that you have to look beneath the surface to discover the truth.

Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry is very much a Juliet and Romeo type romance, with two teenagers from very different tracks of life. Brittany is the typical blonde cheerleader rich girl, who lives in a big house with a pool. She plays the role of the typical popular school girl to perfection, and dates the high school jock. Anybody watching her would say she has it all, and in the material sense of things, she does. But what they don’t see is the real Brittany, who has helped raise her older sister who has severe Cerebral Palsy, and whom she loves dearly. They don’t see a teenager who feels she has to play the role of perfect daughter for her mother, who – because of her inability to emotionally cope with her daughter’s disability – puts all of her hopes, blames, and problems on Brittany’s shoulders. With an absent father who works all the time, and rarely takes any notice of his wife and daughters when home, Brittany makes sure that nobody comes to her house. If they do, they’ll see how dysfunctional her family life really is.

Alejandro Fuentes lives the total opposite life of Brittany’s. He lives on the poor side of Chicago where he’s a member of a Latino gang. Alex lives with his mother and two younger brothers, and while they don’t have the material things of life, love is very much shown. But Alex’s life as a gang member is very real, where he goes ‘collecting’ when people haven’t paid up to ‘Hector’, the gang leader. Alex, deep down, hates the gang life. But he has no choice if he wants to keep his family safe, and by being in a gang, he hopes to keep his two younger brothers out. Alex is very smart though and doesn’t struggle with school grades, but he doesn’t see a real future for himself, and so he puts on to full effect the bravado of a gang member at school.

Brittany’s and Alex’s worlds are about to collide though, when Brittany accidentally nearly runs over Alex while in school. Heated words are exchanged between them, and things get worse (or better?) when they are seated next to each as lab partners in Chemistry, where their lives are about to take a drastic turn.

This is such, such a great book to read. I totally glommed it in one reading. While it has the Romeo and Juliet theme, which is not entirely original, the characters themselves are so full of life and full of authenticity, that they totally made the story. Personally, the soul of the book for me was Alex. Alex, who secretly wanted better things out of life for himself, but didn’t dare to dream. Alex’s life as a gang member is not made to be soft hearted, and he’s not made to be a bad boy who all the girls want to go after. Alex’s life as a gang member is very real, and very dangerous. It’s been a way of life for him for so long. Alex didn’t want to be a gang member, but to protect his family, he had no other choice. Especially when you learn more about his father, and the circumstances surrounding him, I understood Alex a lot more and felt a bucketful of compassion for him. I thought it was quite a brutal story, as it didn’t shy away from the gang nature. The scenes were not graphic per se (except for the swearing) but I thought that Simone Elkeles managed to convey to the reader how life as a gang member was very dangerous; having to be on the look out all the time for a rival group who would likely gun you down, drug crimes, beatings and also murder. Alex’s character, who owned a gun, refused to take part in the drug deals and gun shootings – though I do wonder if this was real life, I don’t think he would have had a choice. His story just tugged on my heart strings.

Brittany’s and Alex’s story is told with their POV alternating from one chapter to the next, and I think if we didn’t have Alex’s insights, he wouldn’t have been so likeable. Britanny and Alex pretty much hated each other in the beginning, and when they both start to see past the roles they play in life, their reluctant attraction takes on a new form. Their romance wasn’t full of sweetness and light because their lives were too chaotic, but it was so heart warming to see them come together, and I was championing them on, especially when they were battling their inner doubts about each other. Alex who never in a million years thought he would have feelings for a rich white girl, or Brittany, going against everything she has built for herself, even though it was for show.

This book deals with a lot of issues; diversity and looking past a person’s skin colour and your perceptions of them, and seeing the real person within. While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I did feel a disconnect, mainly towards the end, where I thought a lot of emotion should have been shown in a very tragic event, but wasn’t. Also, another problem I had was not understanding the Spanish words. While it gave Alex great authenticity when he spoke Spanish, no English translations were given, so I was left floundering a bit.

Alex’s and Brittany’s lives do change, and what they thought their futures would be, turn out to be very different, and in a very good way. The epilogue did make me chuckle as I don’t think it was particularly realistic, but the real meaning was there and it was heart warming.

I give Perfect Chemistry 4.5 out of 5.

7 thoughts on “Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles”

  1. Thanks, Gale. 🙂 It’s a wonderful read, and this book has definitely got a unique flavour.

    Yay, Sapphire. I’m so glad that other people love this book also. It’s such a goodie. 😀

  2. This is a beautifully written review! I had mixed feelings about this novel, but you did a magnificent job of highlighting its strengths, especially the richness of the character development.

  3. Sounds really good. Which girl doesn’t love a Romeo & Juliet story. And I so understand the Spanish thing. I’m always distracted by things like that too.
    Great review!

  4. Thank you, Stephanie. 🙂 I think while the Romeo and Juliet theme was not very original and the ending sort of lost it’s way a little, the characters had a lot of depth to them. 🙂

    Susi, the book is very, very good. 😀 Yeah, I got sort of lost with the Spanish words, but on the other hand, it made Alex that more authentic.

  5. i love this book so much. it is so perfect and my dream love story… alex is the bad-ass dude while brittany is the goody-goody two shoes.

  6. I grabbed perfect chemistry in a pile of other books a few weeks ago. I did not think I would like it, but was curious about the different characters. I fell in love with Brittney and Alex. I want to read everything by this author.

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