Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: 'Perfect Chemistry' by Simone Elkeles

On the surface, this teen romance novel screams cliche--perfect blond cheerleader meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks and they fall in love.  But Perfect Chemistry is so much more than that.  Its realistic characters, serious social issues and conversational writing style turn this tale from a stereotype to a gripping read. 
Alex Fuentes is a member of the Latino Blood gang.  While he accepted that he had to join to save his family the the gang's persecution, there remains a spark in his heart that longs for a better future for himself.  Brittany is the cool and controlled popular girl.  She works hard to create a perfect image at school in order to hide the dysfunction of her home life.  Naturally, the two hate each other.  But when their chemistry teacher assigns them as lab partners for whole senior year, the pair are forced to work together. 
While at it's heart, Perfect Chemistry is a love story, the growth of these characters really takes center stage in the plot.  Simone Elkeles doesn't shy away from the grittier aspects of gang life, nor does she attempt to white-wash the characters as perfect kids in bad situations.  They are flawed and damaged and struggling to make their way in the world.  Alex carries a gun, gets high and frequently gets in trouble.  Brittany can be snobbish and cold.  But the two have similarities as well.  Both are protective of their siblings; Alex in order to keep his brothers out of the gang, and Brittany to keep her handicapped sister out of a home.  They both want a better life for themselves, one that means escaping the molds they were born into. 
The only thing I really didn't like about this book was the epilogue.  I wish Elkeles would have left it off completely.  It added a level of cheesiness that wasn't present anywhere else in the book.  Readers might want to skip this part to keep it from ruining their perceptions of the book.
Overall, I give Perfect Chemistry...
Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character Development - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Realism - 5 bookmarks (Love books where teens behave like teens and not as the politically correct police want them to.)
Love Story - 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) -  Alyson Michalka (Brittany), Ed Speelers (Colin), Roberto Urbina (Alex)

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