A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.Review - Perfect Chemistry has received high praise from most areas of the blogosphere due to the snarky, heated interchanges between polar opposites Brittany and Alex. The book met my expectations and I really found myself enjoying these two characters circle one another like caged beasts. Elkeles' take on forbidden love in a contemporary, urban setting is fun and much more fleshed out than might be expected.
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.
But there are issues. The gang content was always going to be of concern. Alex had to be unwilling in his compliance to the gang and yet realism needed to be retained. Elkeles wasn't as successful as I would have liked in her depiction of Alex's gang as she didn't fully commit to it. She touched on some great characterisation and predicaments but it didn't reflect a true understanding of that life. It felt like it was stuck half way between West Side Story's Sharks and Boyz n the Hood, more of a interpretation of what's presented in the media instead of a real knowledge.
Brittany's home life is similarly noble and sympathetic but not entirely convincing. The depiction of Shelley (Brittany's sister with cystic fibrosis) was distinctly non-cliched and extremely admirable. It was a choice that really helped to round out the Brittany character and make her much more than the stereotypical poor, little, rich girl. Largely, the interactions between the sisters are honest, amusing and depict love and loyalty. On a few occasions the humourous tone was a little off and took away from the sincerity of Brittany and Shelley's relationship or obviously served a plot point.
Elkeles demonstrated great skill in establishing a deepening connection between her two leads. Duel perspective, alternating chapters undoubtedly assisted this, as did her quippy banter that ably developed the growing tension. However, the epilogue was hugely unnecessary and left a huge question mark in my mind to why an editor let this pass muster.
At its core, Perfect Chemistry is a novel that carries its heart on it's sleeve and a shiv in it's back pocket. It is a love story, a story of identity, the need to look forward and being weighted by your past. Sexual tension permeates this story with fueled banter and steamy encounters but it is about connecting with another on an emotional wavelength.
A great read with a sizzling execution.
Published: January 2008
Format: Paperback, 357 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers