Sunday, February 28, 2010

DIK Reading Challenge: Perfect Chemistry

Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: YA-Romance
Series: Series Unknown, but a sequel is coming out
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

At Fairfield High, everyone knows that south siders and north siders aren’t exactly compatible elements. So when cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are forced to be lab partners, the results are bound to be explosive.

Neither teen is prepared for the most surprising chemical reaction of all – love. Can they break through the stereotypes and misconceptions that threaten to keep them apart?

*Beware. Minor spoilers ahoy.

Every now and then a book comes along that exceeds your expectations and makes you go, “Wow, I really enjoyed that.” For me, Perfect Chemistry was one of those books. I picked it up only intending to read a chapter or two, and finished the whole book in one sitting. I love the characters, the plot, and the writing. Perfect Chemistry was not what I expected. From the reviews and book trailer, I thought this was going to be a romantic comedy. Was it romantic? Yes. Funny? Yes. But Perfect Chemistry is more than just a humorous piece of YA fiction. It had some unexpected depth.

Both Brittany and Alex have some big issues in their lives. Brittany lives in a glass house. Her anxiety-prone, obsessive mother is determined to show the world a good face, no matter what happens. Her emotionally absent dad is no better, spending as much time as possible at work and away from the family. Her older sister has cerebral palsy, another one of the family’s secrets. Most of the tension in Brittany’s family comes from her parents wanting to send the sister to an institution while Brittany feels pressure to become the family’s perfect daughter.

Brittany was a bit of a stereotype. Rich. Beautiful. Head of the poms squad and dating the quarterback. Guys want to bang her and girls want to be her. Despite her sister and the problems with her parents, it was hard to feel too sorry for her. In terms of her social life, she’s the school’s princess. Her character does evolve as she stops keeping everyone at arm’s length and stops worrying about fitting the social mold.

In many ways Brittany’s character is easier for the average teen to relate to than Alex. Parents, siblings, social anxiety and pressure to have sex are universal teen issues. Alex’s problems go beyond that, and I think that also made him a more fleshed out character than Brittany.

I love Alex’s character. He’s poor, Latino, and in a gang. Perfect Chemistry doesn't skirt around the issues the way a lot of books do. When it says Alex is in a gang, Alex is in a gang. I don’t want to get too much into Alex’s gang life as it’s such a major part of the plot, but I like that the issue wasn’t made light of. He may not run major drug deals or shoot people, but he carries a loaded gun most of the time and leads a violent lifestyle. It didn’t feel fake. He may have a heart of gold somewhere deep down, but that doesn’t make him warm and cuddly.

For a YA romance, I found it fairly steamy. Things never get graphic, but a lot of scenes are emotionally charged. Elkeles really brought out the thrills of young love. Everything is in first-person, so readers get a good sense of a character’s thoughts and emotions. I don’t usually like romances in first person since I want to know what both characters are thinking, but the chapters alternate between Brittany and Alex’s point of view, taking care of that problem.

Some people felt Perfect Chemistry was cliché. Yea, it is. The clichés were almost unavoidable. Star-crossed lovers are about as cliché as you can get without moving into archetypes. But the theme is played with enough to feel fresh. The only cliché that got under my skin was that Alex and Brittany’s sister connected after meeting. It just felt like shorthand for “Look! This guy is so much better than your current jack-ass boyfriend.” I didn’t like when the sister was used as a plot device. The ending was cliché too, but after everything they went through I was happy with a warm and fuzzy ending and care-bear epilogue.

Another small thing that did annoy me was the timing of events. Ninety percent of this book takes place between the beginning of the school year and Halloween. That’s maybe ten to twelve weeks for our two love birds to get over their mutual hate, become attracted to each other, decide to break the social mold, and fall in love. The short time span didn’t bother me. It’s a staple of the romance genre that once you've meet “the one” obstacles shall arise and be conquered in short order. However, the remaining ten percent of the book moved in five month spans. I found the change in pace jarring. I would have preferred if the timing of the book was more even, but by the end I was so eager to see what happens that it’s probably good I didn’t have to wait.

To sum up, if you like YA fiction, go read this book! This is one of the few books that has wowed me lately. I’m excited to see there is a sequel, which is about Alex’s younger brother, coming out in a few months. I’ll definitely be reviewing that some time later this year. 5 out of 5!


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