7/18/2012

Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

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SYNOPSIS: 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.


How do I even begin to explain how I feel about Perfect Chemistry? To be honest, I felt a bit turned off when I read the first two chapters of the book. It began with Brittany’s point of view in the first chapter, then Alex’s point of view in the next. Simone Elkeles showed a glimpse of Brit’s and Alex’s lives before they even met - their families, friends, school life. From the get go, I could easily predict how the story would unravel. To me it was all a bit too cliché; popular rich blonde who-you-think-is-perfect-but-isn’t falls in love with the Spanish bad ass from “da hood”. And to top it off, there’s the element of the bet made between Alex and his friends, the bet that says he has to get Brittany to sleep with him before Thanksgiving. The moment I read about it in the synopsis I just thought, “Oh I can already see how this will end.”

True enough, I was right. The storyline is so formulaic I thought twice about finishing it at first. BUT I’M GLAD I DID! The story may have been predictable early on but Simone Elkeles wrote with such creativity that I was able to look past all the clichés.

Brittany’s and Alex’s secret lives are so non-conventional that you’d sympathize with the characters as you go along the way. It didn’t make me want to bang my head on the book and yell at them saying, “Dude, it’s so simple! How can you not see it?!” (unlike some wildly predictable stories)

What exactly is non-conventional about their secret lives? Although Brittany is Little Ms. Perfect in school, the truth is she’s anything but at home. She has a mother who constantly nags on her, her father is too workaholic they can barely talk to him, and her older sister whom she loves dearly, Shelly, has cerebral palsy. (And she’s pretty much the biggest part of who Brittany is) On the one hand we have Alex, a member of the notorious gang called the Latino Blood. After witnessing his father get killed when he was only 6 years old, he had to grow up to early to protect his mom and two brothers. (But there’s so much more to Alex’s history, I just don’t want to spoil everything for everyone)

The way Elkeles brought her lead characters to life with their rich backgrounds appealed to me and made me forget about how predictable the storyline is as a whole. But Elkeles was able to polish the details of the book without going overboard and turning it into a crazy whirlwind love affair. (*coughs* Beautiful Disaster *coughs*)

Even the minor characters added flavor to the book (how appropriate is “flavor” to a book filled with Latinos). Some characters are predictable but like I said, the details make all the difference. We have…
  • Shelley, Brit’s sister who has cerebral palsy - she’s such a delight to picture, always happy whenever Brittany’s around and always beating Alex at checkers. 
  • Brit’s extremely unreasonable mother - she’s so uptight you’d wish Shelley would pull her hair out instead.
  • Paco, Alex’s bestfriend who plays-a-key-role-but-I-won’t-say-what
  • Alex’s mom - now I’ve taken a special liking to her in a weird way. I half expected her to be the usual doting mother who wants to straighten her boys out and is thankful for her son’s girlfriend who does the trick. But she’s not. (I didn’t spoil it much, I swear!)
Other minor characters were so typical I won’t even discuss them.

The part that made me totally ignore all the clichés I’ve been blabbing about from the beginning: how Brittany found out about the bet. Now we all know the usual way is she’ll find out about it from someone else and when she confronts the guy he’ll be all, I’m sorry! At first it was just about the bet but then I fell in love with you yada yada yada. Then they’ll break up. But in Perfect Chemistry, Alex told her the whole truth himself, and even had his friends confirm it to her. I spoiled it for everyone since we all know she’s bound to find out anyway.

And this is me nitpicking: I found that the book lacked vivid physical descriptions of the characters. I had trouble picturing a hot gangster Latino and a beautiful blonde who doesn’t look pasty. Or maybe it’s just my inability to appreciate blondes and the stereotypical gangster Latinos I’m used to. Or maybe it’s the people on the book cover that messed with my imagination. Maybe. Definitely the people on the cover. Side note: DON’T PICK BOOKS WITH PEOPLE ON THE COVER. Kidding.

The winning factor for me is how Elkeles was able to provide an image of how Brittany and Alex’s relationship continued by writing about it briefly in the end, and in the epilogue. I easily get disappointed whenever a writer would make characters discuss a future together only to leave her audience hanging. It’s just this pathetic thing I go through whenever I finish reading a love story - I need to know what else happened to them after the The End in the last chapter. Some sort of follow through is necessary, and Simone Elkeles delivered excellently. 

TO SUM UP:
  1. The book may be filled with cliché but the details will make you fall in love with the story and the characters (including the minor ones).
  2. She’s a good enough writer, technique-wise.
  3. It lacks vivid physical descriptions but I guess that’s just me.
  4. You will definitely love the follow through in the end. *wink*
10 FAVORITE LINES: 
(Thank you, Goodreads!)
  1. “You are the one girl that made me risk eveything for a future worth having.” 
  2. “I want to try making things right because picking up the pieces is way better than leaving them the way they are.” 
  3. “If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that nobody is here forever. You have to live for the moment, each and every day … the here, the now” 
  4. “This connection we have isn’t going away, it’s only getting stronger. Because the more I spend time with her, the closer I want to be.” 
  5. “I never stopped loving you. Even when I tried desperately to forget you, I couldn’t.” 
  6. “Opening yourself up to making mistakes and being vulnerable is what makes it beautiful and special with the person you love.” 
  7. “Playing with fire doesn’t necessarily get you burned.” 
  8. “Whether it’s right or wrong, fight for what you believe in.” 
  9. “Do I make you nervous?” His gaze travels from my eyes to my breasts and down to where my dress meets my thighs. “In that dress you do.” -added this one for variety.
  10. “Was Paco in here?” - funniest line, ever.
My Rating:
(Refer to rating system)

About the author
Simone Elkeles

Simone Elkeles is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of novels for teens. Simone’s books have won many awards including being YALSA Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, being named to the YALSA Popular Paperbacks and Teens Top Ten lists, and added to the Illinois “Read for a Lifetime” Reading List. Simone also won the coveted RITA award from the Romance Writers of America for her book Perfect Chemistry. Simone is especially proud of the fact that the Illinois Association of Teachers of English named her Author of the Year. 

Simone was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, where she still lives today. Simone went to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and received her Bachelor’s of Science there in Psychology in 1992. She continued her education at Loyola University-Chicago where she received her Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Relations while working for a manufacturing company creating diversity programs for their employees.

She loves animals (she has two dogs – a labradoodle and a German Shepherd), kids (she also has two of those) and her family. In her spare time she’s the Hockey Mom for her kids hockey teams and is an active Girl Scout leader specially trained in outdoor education. She also spends time mentoring other teen and adult authors. (She also loves sushi, which you can probably tell by reading her books.) Simone writes about teens because she was a teen in the 80’s (when spiked hair and blue eye shadow were “rad”) and she loves writing about those exciting teen relationships and romances.

2 comments:

  1. Great review!

    After reading the summary of Perfect Chemistry on Goodreads I also got the impression that this was a book built on clishés and I was therefore very undecided whether I wanted to read the book or not.

    After having read your review though, I might pick it up after all. :)

    Patricia @ Night Readings

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    Replies
    1. Give it a try, it might surprise you in a good way :-)

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