Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
2008, Walker Books for Young Readers


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. (courtesy of Goodreads)


"Uptown girl
She's been living in her uptown world
I bet she never had an back street guy..."

Perfect Chemistry is a story that's been told time and time again, from Grease to Billy Joel. But that doesn't necessarily mean that a new take on the classic tale can't be fresh and interesting. Perfect Chemistry was an entrancing, page-turning romance.

Brittany Ellis and Alex Fuentes are two people you'd never expect to get along. Brittany is the girl with everything - looks, money, grades, popularity. Alex is poor, stand-offish, and a gang member. Much to their horror, their chemistry teacher makes them partners for their senior year. They soon learn that there's more to each person than it appears on the surface. I think it's the fact that both of have secret inner lives that attracts them to one another. Brittany doesn't really want to be perfect; she chafes under her mother's pressure. She cares most about her sister with cerebral palsy. Alex doesn't like being a gang member. He wants to succeed in life - professionally and personally. First and foremost though, he wants to protect his family.

I love the style of this book. It's told in short chapters alternating character. Elkeles creates distinct voices for Brittany and Alex, but both seem entirely in keeping with their characters. Alex's voice is particularly interesting. Dialogue is interspersed with Spanish. His life of poverty and violence seems very realistic. I particularly loved the portrayal of Shelly, Brittany's sister. There aren't nearly enough good portrayals of mentally disabled characters in YA lit. Through Brittany's eyes we see not only Shelly's disabilities, but also her fun, vibrant personality. Alex and Brittany's relationship does develop quickly but not instantaneously. Each page of the book was another step that brought them closer together; there wasn't just one magic falling in love moment. It seemed much more realistic than many books.

I have a few quibbles about the story. Primarily, I thought sex was too important to the story. I liked how Brittany didn't want to have sex until it felt special and right. But the book still makes sex seem like the most important part of a relationship - the pinnacle. I'm not opposed to sexuality in YA lit, but I don't think it should be glorified as the end-all, be-all. But then again, YA lit isn't meant to be moralistic tales and the attitude toward sex reflects how many teens feel.

*Minor Spoilers* - Highlight to read

Several reviews I've read don't like the ending; many said things were just wrapped up too neatly. I agree, but I really liked how Brittany and Alex's relationship ends up. I'm a sucker for a happy ending. I did not like how Brittany and her parents settled out their issues. It just seemed too fake and TV movie-ish for me.

All in all, an excellent book with two likeable characters. I cheered for Brittany and Alex from the first to the last page.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


  1. Really nice review Alison! I haven't read anything by Elkeles but I've been wanting to try these books. I agree that sex shouldn't be glorified as the high point of a relationship, I don't mind it being an important part just like you said, because it often is an important part, but there should be more to a relationship than that:) Glad to know the characters are so likeable, I'll definitely have to give this one a try!

  2. I haven't read anything by Elkeles, but I've heard good things about her. Yours is the first review that actually gives me some insight and I loved it. And I agree with you about sex being glorified. It was like that in another book (among many) that I read where the main character slept with most of her class and it was no big deal. In fact, she got bored as she made her way through them alphabetically. I think it's important in a way as it does happen, but it shouldn't be the focal point.

    I've heard that Elkeles writing is really good, so I'm going to finally bust this one out of the Kindle and get it read. Thanks for the review!

    In the Closet With a Bibliophile

  3. Alison,

    I completely understand where you are coming from, about sex being the pinnacle, but the way I interpreted it was that for teens, well, it is just that, the pinnacle.

    For Brittany, it was her first time, against Alex, who had experience. Her feeling for him were confusing at first and then when she realized she loved him, she didn't want to be just another notch on his belt. So for her and what it meant for their relationship, it was a big deal at that time in her life. I didn't see it as glorified, but rather thoughtful.

    Gah, What am I even saying here. Who knows. :P

    I loved Alex POVs too. His character was very authentic. And I'm a sucker for HEA, but I'm one of those that felt the ending was too nicely packaged. I didn't need it, but I still thought it was sweet.

    Glad you enjoyed it. I can't wait for book 3!

  4. I'm glad you mentioned he doesn't want to be a gang member. The fact that he is in a gang is one of the things that always turned me off from the book. I wasn't sure how much I could like a guy who gloried in being in a gang, so it's good to know that isn't the case.

    I also agree with what you said about sex. I also don't like it written about that way because that plot device just feels repetitive and boring after a while. I imagine it might be more interesting for a teen reader though.

  5. Very interesting review. I did not like this book at all mainly because I couldn't swallow the stereotypes and the fact that the characters didn't fight against them. Living in an urban setting for several years and know kids who have members in a gang, I thought the author doesn't realistically portray how complicated the gang life really is. Getting out of a gang is much more involved than saying "I want out" and then getting punished. While I understand that it's a romance, I did think the book had lots of holes in it. What's interesting is that the urban students that read the book have been really disappointed where as the students who live in a more affluent neighbored can't get enough.

  6. Great review. This book has been on my reading list for a year and I still haven't gotten to it. @_@.

  7. I love the cover on this book. I always fall for this story be it in a novel or a movie. There is just something about the privileged girl and the "bad" boys.

  8. I really enjoyed this one, but I had reservations about the second book in the series. Will be interested to see what you think of that one!

  9. I flew through this one and enjoyed- thanks for the review.
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  10. I loved this one (big Alex fan here!) I can see your point though, great review!

  11. Good review, I don't exactly agree about the sex though. Although the book had sexual undertones, I don't think it was as glorified as half the YA book I've read. There wasn't blatant sex and I too appreciate the fact that Brittany waited. I liked the ending, myself. I appreciate that she tried to give them something more than just "the end".

    I really love this book. I thought it was cute, cheesy, and a semi Romeo and Juliet tale but still slightly original and the fact that it's a trilogy is cool. I liked the dynamic between Alex and Brittany. I saw the video for this commercial before reading and I almost didn't because of that but after much coxing from my best friend, I borrowed her copy and I finished within the next day of getting it. I just got Rules of Attraction and I can't wait to start it.


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