Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry #1) by Simone Elkeles
Paperback, 359 pages
Published: December 23rd 2008 by Walker Books for Young Readers
literary awards: Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance (2010), An ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers for Top Ten (2010), Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award Nominee (2011), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2011)
A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.
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.
Out of all the YA novels I have read in the past year, this book was the most contemporary. It is most likely because the majority of YA novels I read are apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal or supernatural. This is the first book in a long time that involved situations and issues that can, and do, occur in our society; issues of turfs, cliques, gangs, popularity, wealth, poverty, and race. This story could easily be a story of teens in your own city or state. It can be compared to many movies such as West Side Story and Pretty in Pink. It is definitely a modern day Romeo and Juliet.
This book is another alternating POV story, told through the eyes of the “star-crossed lovers” Brittany and Alex. Brittany is the blond, blue-eyed cheerleader from a wealthy family. On the surface Brittany has the perfect life, but what most don’t know is that her life is far from it. Her 20 year old sister, Shelley, is mentally and physically disabled and in need of constant care; her mother, unable to handle Shelley’s imperfection, is always concerned about appearances, and criticizes Brittany constantly; and her dad works constantly and is totally disconnected from his family when he is home. Alex is the son of Mexican immigrants, whose father was murdered before his eyes when he was young, and is the man of the house for his mother and two younger brothers. He is a member of the Latin Blood gang, is no stranger to trouble, and has a reputation for being dangerous. Alex is also very smart and is only part of the Blood to protect his family. He actually wants to go to college and have a better life and he tries hard to keep his brothers from becoming members of the Blood.
The alternating POVs help us see both how different Alex and Brittany’s worlds are and how they are very similar. They both put on an act for everyone and do exactly what is expected of them even though what they really want is to be who they are. Alex wants to have a better life that includes college but feels it’s beyond his reach because of where he comes from. Brittany wants more than anything to be herself and make mistakes without having to feel like she’s letting her parents down by doing it. It is only when they are able to reveal these truths to each other that they fall for each other. Alex is relieved to find out that even though Brittany comes from wealth her family has problems too. Brittany is comforted by the fact that Alex puts on as much of show for everyone as she does and that there is more to him than his gang reputation, particularly that he doesn't want to be in the gang and wants more from his life. Brittany also likes how close Alex’s family is and that his mother cares so much for him.
Their love for each other comes with consequences. Both Alex and Brittany’s family and friends are against their union. On Alex’s side, they feel that he’s selling out by dating Brittany and that he will never live up to her expectations because he’s Mexican, member of the Blood, and didn't come from money. Brittany’s friends and family, however, feel that she’s disgracing herself by dating someone so beneath her and fear that she will end up in trouble because of his association with the Blood. What neither side realizes is that they love each other because they learned that there is more too them than outside appearances and stereotypes.
I loved every second reading this book. It included a good amount of heartwarming and romantic scenes, as well as some action. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to read a realistic, contemporary YA novel. It is very well written and incorporates both cultures, especially the use of simple Spanish words. There are two more books within the series, Rule of Attraction and Chain Reaction, which tell similar stories about Alex’s brothers. I plan to read both in the future and will provide a review of them.