Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Title:  Perfect Chemistry
Author:  Simone Elkeles
Publisher:  Walker Books for Young Readers
Paperback:  360 pages
Genre:  YA/contemporary/romance
ISBN:  0802798225
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.

Overall rating: 6/10 flowers
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Set against the backdrop of a fictional Chicago suburb, Perfect Chemistry is the story of two teenagers from opposite sides of the tracks.   As the first book in Simone Elkeles' trilogy about the Fuentes brothers, Perfect Chemistry introduces the eldest brother Alejandro (Alex) and his reluctant lab partner Brittany, a wealthy girl who tries very hard to maintain a 'perfect' image in order to please her parents and peers.  

What I Liked:
-     I am a sucker for stories about star-crossed lovers, so I liked the premise.  Seeing two polar opposites who despise each other (but obviously belong together) forced to be chemistry lab partners is entertaining.
-     I liked the way the protagonists gradually began to look beneath the surface to get to know one another.  Brittany and Alex each face a lot of pressure outside of school, and I enjoyed seeing them both let their guards down to show each other a glimpse of what really motivates them.
-     The fact that Alex's life seemed to be headed toward more and more dangerous territory kept me turning the pages in hopes that he would find a way out of the Latino Blood gang, and overall this book felt like a fast, compelling read.
-     The novel's structure, with one chapter from Brittany's point-of-view and the next from Alex's, works very well for this story and makes it easy to connect with each character and to understand what lurks  beneath the carefully-constructed images they each portray to the world.
-     I have a sister with cerebral palsy, and I enjoy seeing characters with disabilities featured in YA novels.  In this case, Brittany's sister Shelley has cerebral palsy.  Although Shelley is not the main focus of the story, Brittany's affection for and attachment to her sister is central to her personality and to the challenges she faces in her home life.
-     The difficult choices each of the protagonists struggle with are realistic and aren't necessarily black and white issues with one wrong choice and one right.  I liked the complexity in their lives, and it made the sweet scenes sweeter and the heartbreaking scenes more heartbreaking.

What I Disliked:
-     Most of the main plot points in this book can be anticipated from a mile away.  While Brittany and Alex might be surprised to find themselves falling for one another, the reader will not be at all surprised by their  attraction to one another or by the obstacles they encounter.  
-     Several over-used plot devices come into play in this book, robbing the story of  a bit of its originality.  Of the common plot elements, I thought Alex's bet was the one used least creatively and most predictably.
-     A few scenes just did not ring true for me.  At times I felt that a character's actions (or lack of actions) were inconsistent with their personality, and a couple of scenes seemed inserted purely for melodrama or for a sunshine-and-lollipops happy ending.
-     The pacing of the novel faltered in the final inning.  Time passes a day or a week at a time throughout the first fifty-five chapters, but the the last few chapters skip months ahead and feel more like an extended epilogue than a continuation of the story.
-     I did not like the ending at all!  I can't really elaborate without revealing spoilers, but UGH.  :(  

Fans of contemporary YA romance and good girl/bad boy stories will probably enjoy this book.  Several reviewers whose opinions I value and respect have given this book glowing reviews, so perhaps my complaints about this novel stem partially from the fact that contemporary YA is not my favorite genre.  Despite my complaints, I did enjoy some aspects of the story and I am tempted to pick up the second book, Rules of Attraction, to see if I find Carlos' story more enjoyable and believable than Alex's.  To learn more about Perfect Chemistry, you can read an excerpt or visit Simone Elkeles' website, facebook, and twitter.

(I do not like the comedic trailer for this book and think that it paints both of the main characters in an unflattering light that does not do either of them justice, but I thought I'd share it here anyway because I am curious about other readers' opinions on this trailer.  Personally, if I had seen this trailer before picking up Perfect Chemistry, I would NOT have purchased it.  How about you?)


Gretchen said...

Ummmm....agreed with you about the trailer. One hundred percent.

Midnight Sapphire Books said...

I thinks this is one of the worst trailers I've seen. But I love this book ...

Cleverly Inked said...

I had not seen the trailer before. Weird to say the least

Candace said...

I loved the book but some of the negative points you brought up I do agree with. I totally agree about the trailer though. Horrible!

Violet said...

Gretchen, Midnight Sapphire, Liz, and Candace - Thank you so much for your comments! :)

I am relieved to hear that I'm not alone in thinking that trailer is awful! I wondered if I was just failing to have a sense of humor about it, but I disliked seeing Alex and Brittany portrayed as shallow, ditzy, one-dimensional stereotypes.

Debbie / Cranberry Fries said...

My friend was just telling me about this book tonight and I knew it sounded familiar. It's because I saw it on your blog!
I sure love your blog.

Olivia Carter said...

Haha! I'm the one Debbie mentioned above.

I actually really liked this book. I'll admit to it not being the most original, but I hadn't read something like it before (if that makes sense).

But that book trailer is TERRIBLE. They did a much better job with the sequel book trailer. It's not great but it's not LAME, like this one.

Violet said...

Debbie - Thanks so much! I really appreciate your comments! :)

Olivia Carter - I have read lots of very positive reviews for this book, so I think I am in the minority is disliking the last few chapters so much that they brought my overall rating down significantly. I totally agree that the trailer for Rules of Attraction is MUCH better! Definitely a huge improvement. :)

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