When Carlos Fuentes returns to America after living in Mexico for a year, he doesn’t want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him at a high school in Colorado . Carlos likes living his life on the edge and wants to carve his own path—just like Alex did. Then he meets Kiara Westford. She doesn’t talk much and is completely intimidated by Carlos’ wild ways. As they get to know one another, Carlos assumes Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, and refuses to admit that she might be getting to him. But he soon realizes that being himself is exactly what Kiara needs right now. Goodreads
Review - Rules of Attraction starts off badly when the list (of which the title originates from) is ill fittingly named and nonsensical in the context of what is being discussed. It further burrows a hole for itself when it chooses to tell another Fuentes family member's story about having their lives turned around by an affluent white girl. Again, really? Why she have to be white and rich? What is Elkeles really trying to say?
Turns out Elkeles is trying to say a lot about a whole host of things and as such her focus is scattered. Whether it is the restorative elements of programs like REACH, caring for the elderly, the volatility of gang life or GLBT tolerance -none is sketched particularly well as they are included ,but not enveloped, into the story. They do nothing to expand the characters, they are just steps on the reader's journey to a happy and unrealistic ending.
Trust is a central theme - earning one's trust, losing it but in the end I felt Elkeles had lost mine. Perfect Chemistry was a fun book, by no means perfect, but a great read. Here, the author's recycled elements of her previous release, stripped back others and phoned the rest in. All characters are flat with the exception to Carlos who is only saved from that fate via salty language, impure thoughts and and conflicted feelings. When I say he's rounded think of a partially inflated beach ball after a summer of use and you are on the right track. Brittany and Alex come up better but that is all due to the audiences previous knowledge of them, not the present bland version that sleep walk through this title. Tuck is a character that gravely bothered me. His entire function is to be annoying and gay. He isn't fully realised, instead his homosexuality is provided as an excuse for Elkeles to toss out some sassy cliched quips and disguise Kiara's single status. It was only a matter of time before Tuck's sexuality was used to show what a decent and understanding fellow Carlos is and low and behold that's what happened. Tuck's character is used as a prop, never as a person that is more than a walking talking label - he deserves more than what he was assigned to play. Kiara's psychologist father was poorly handled in portraying what could have been a complex character. Instead it felt lazy and plot contrived that he should happen to have a Marine background and convenient law enforcement connections.
As for the romance, it was fun when the snarky interplay was at the forefront. It was quick, representative of the characters and was fun for the audience. It allows their attraction to play out combatively...then it turned into a love fest, Kiara shed her clothes at the drop of a hat and Carlos was in a gang. Mind blown. I nearly got whiplash from the narrative jump as there was little logic at play, very little show and a heck of a lot of tell. It was character assassination at its finest - Kiara lost any dimension she did possess to become a love spouting, hormone crazed idiot who had failed to show this her character in the first half of the story. While I love that they are different people and the fiery interplay - their relationship needed to be built on something more to be real.
As for Carlos' heritage - if some Spanish vocabulary, a recipe or two and the integration of a gang into a narrative gives legitimacy, then I'm the Pope. Everything that felt superficial about the depiction of Mexican-American families in Perfect Chemistry was exacerbated in this title. I am all for diversity in YA, heck it is even a movement, but it needs a fairer, deeper portrayal than brothers righting their lives through the generosity of rich white people. It never felt more than skin deep.
Then there's the epilogue....head hits desk. I thought that the Perfect Chemistry epilogue was a major fail on the part of the author and she's chosen to revisit the ridiculousness here as well. Why, why, why?
Rules of Attraction is superficial romance trying to present itself as a social commentary without doing the hard yards. Dishearteningly shallow.
Published: April 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 326 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers