Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: Simone Elkeles, Perfect Chemistry

not bad for a book about humans

Lately I have been on a major paranormal binge, so was a bit resistant when someone recommended this book to me: a forbidden romance between mere humans. In the end, I caved quite easily; the guy on the cover looked pretty hot and I do love stories about chemistry class.

When I began reading, I was immediately wary about the narrative mode: the two main characters take turns narrating alternating chapters. This is a very difficult mode to pull off. Many authors who attempt this tend to struggle with establishing a distinctive voice for each character (Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver comes to mind). But Elkeles succeeds where others have failed; there is no mistaking the voice of Mexican-American gangster Alex Fuentes with that of his enemy turned love-interest, the blond, beautiful cheerleader captain and most popular girl in the school, Brittany Ellis.

Admittedly, it is a cliched story line. How many books have been written about an unlikely high school romance between the most popular person in school and someone utterly "beneath" them? How many of these romances develop in chemistry class? Yet this story still seemed original. Both characters transcend their stereotypes; Alex is more than an angry gangster who is secretly deeply intelligent; Brittany is more than a jaded prom queen. What draws these characters together is not their differences but their similarities. They are both fiercely protective of their loved ones. Though they come from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds, they both feel as though their family security is held by nothing more than a string, and that they're the only one who can be bothered to make an effort at keeping their respective families together. They are both tempted to slide comfortably into the role that society has given them, and they both lapse into this role on more than one occasion, making the easy choice rather than the right one.

At the end of the day, what made this story for me was, cheesily, the chemistry between Alex and Brittany. They resist each other for a long time, and when they finally give into their attraction, it is wholly believable and moving--NOT an easy thing to pull off, especially in YA literature. My hat is off to you, Ms. Elkeles

4.5 stars

Perfect Chemistry
Simone Elkeles
Walker Books for Young Readers (December 23, 2008)

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