Perfect Chemistry

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

I got A TON of grief from the hubs about this cover: several eyerolls and many a "Are you serious?" Just sayin.

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. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and 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 soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.  In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart. (Goodreads)

You guys, I was SO prepared to hate this book.  I know people love it and they think the whole series is great.  It’s just that I personally think that stories about people from different sides of the track tend to be a bit cliche’.  First, their eyes meet, then they fall in love, then she’s making a hideous prom dress that no one would ever wear. EVER. And then it’s all happy happy kiss kiss (that particular storyline saved only by the amazeballs Duckie). Like, as another example, I hate West Side Story.  I know hate is a strong word, but I really hate it.

So while Perfect Chemistry does have the underlying theme of two different cultures/backgrounds coming together and all the crazy hijinks that ensue (by hijinks I mean love, gang violence, chemistry class, the norm), my preconceived notions could not have been more wrong. I really liked this book.

The two main characters grabbed me immediately.  Brittany is not just some shallow rich girl.  She has real depth and is conflicted by the expectations of her controlling mother, by her upper crust friends, and by her desire to care for her special needs older sister.  Her life, though it seems perfect and beautiful on the outside, is anything but ideal. And Alex.  I was primed to hate this rough around the edges, crass gang member who instills fear in those around him. And yet, what I found was a passionate, sensitive young man trapped in the gang life, desperately trying to protect his younger brothers from the fate forced upon him by his father.

Nope. Not Alex.

Though this story has the cliché I normally despise—the old “we’re forced to be lab partners” bit—Elkes does a magnificent job of showing the similarities between Brittany and Alex (instead of the norm: showing how different they are and that, despite it all, they luuurve each other).  Yes, their everyday lives are completely different, but their problems are similar. Their motivations are similar.  Elkes also does a bang up job creating palpable tension between these two characters.  Told from the alternating perspectives of each, we see their thoughts and fears and yet, we anxiously wait to see if it will all work out.

Truth be told, I really disliked this cover from the start.  It didn’t help that my husband made fun of me the moment he saw it (in his defense, most YA covers are awful).  But as this story went on, I found myself thinking that the male cover model wasn’t hot enough to be Alex.  Like, suddenly I felt protective of this character.

If I have any complaint about this book, it would only be that I didn’t absolutely love the ending.  The resolution is great, and ultimately it ends well, but there were a few bits of dialogue,  as well as an entire epilogue that felt somewhat unrealistic.  Still, I was so pleased with where each of the characters ended up that I was satisfied.

Crush Intensity: 4/5 I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series, Rules of Attraction and Chain Reaction, which follow Alex’s younger brothers.


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17 thoughts on “Perfect Chemistry

  1. This book really surprised me in that it completely sucked me in. I could not put it down! I’m glad you gave it a chance and ended up liking it! 🙂 I think you’re right about the guy on the cover, he’s not hot enough to be Alex, but the guy in the book trailers is much better. 😀

    • This book sucked me in, too. But I got a little grossed out by all the sex cliches (showing up in a trench coat with nothing underneath) and also, I didn’t think the whole chemistry metaphor worked well.

      Also, Brittany? I just kept thinking of a Mean Girl and couldn’t get past it.

      • I forgot about the trench coat! Yeah, that was pretty bad. But I was STILL so into it. I really expected to hate it. I love when that happens; when I’m totally taken by surprise!

  2. Hmm, I’m curioius only because I’d like to read more books with Latino characters. Not that we were from the wrong side of the tracks, lol. Um, sorry but you HATE West Side Story? I had “One Hand, One Heart” sung at my wedding ceremony!

    • There has to be something wrong with me because everyone I know loves that movie! 🙂 I think part of it is because I read that Natalie Wood (who I love) hated he co-star. That always ruins it. It’s like the rumors that Vivian Leigh hated Clark Gable’s breath during Gone With The Wind (he was a smoker). Although, I still love that movie. I guess my WSS hatred is irrational. I can’t explain it!

      • To be honest, she’s my least favorite part of the movie, because a) she’s not Latina and assumes this weird accent and b) she can’t sing and had to lip synch, and I think it’s really obvious. BUT, she was quite the beauty, and I still love her. I just wish someone else had played Maria. Forget T & M and watch for Anita and Bernardo 😉 And yes, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable did not like each other at all, but all the contempt was channeled into an amazing heat; their chemistry was off the charts (I’m a movie critic when I’m not waxing poetic about YA)!

      • I need to watch it again (WSS) because I too got hung up on the bad lip synching. It’s been a few years since the last time I watched it and I was already biased with total hatred at that point. I do totally agree with you on the awesome chemistry between Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh. Perfection! I love that you’re a movie critic. Writing about movies & books= dream job (other than what I do now, which is to keep busy being a stay at home mom. The pay is really bad but it’s so much fun!). 🙂

  3. I just read this on the weekend and loved it, too! Like you I didn’t think I’d be a fan – especially of Alex, a gangmember (!), but after everyone raving about it I thought I’d give it a go. I couldn’t put it down! I’m going to review it over the next couple of days.
    I agree, the cover is terrible and the cover model is so not hot enough.

  4. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Books Outside of My Comfort Zone « YA Crush

  5. OK, so I just read this, and I have to say I was actually disappointed. I have loved every book you’ve recommended, but I had a really, really hard time with the depiction of Alex. I’m Latina and grew up in an incredibly Latino city and spoke Spanglish at home all of the time, and it was really obvious to me that the author was just substituting random words for Spanish ones without really knowing… There were so many times Alex said something cringe-worthy and unbelievable I really couldn’t stand it. But that’s not something I would expect anyone who didn’t grow up Latino to pick up on… Susan Beth Pfeffer’s portrayal of *her* Alex in The Dead and the Gone, however, is so on the money.

    • Really? 😦 Maybe the key for me was low expectations? That sounds so bad, but I don’t mean it in a bad way toward the author or the book, I just really expected to hate it, Of course, I ended up loving it (and had no real ability to identify with the background of either character).

      • Part of me is curious to eventually read the sequels to see if it gets better… She did handle the romantic bits quite well, but then it would be ruined for me by the off-seeming interjections of Spanish words that just felt inauthentic.

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