Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
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.
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.