Alex Fuentes has a tough life, one made more difficult by the fact he's the man of the family, and would do whatever it takes to protect his family, even if that means joining a gang. He has no illusions about his chances of going to college or getting away from the dangerous neighborhood he and his family live in. Girls like Brittany Ellis think they're better than everyone else, and he's no more thrilled than she is when they are assigned as lab partners. But maybe, just maybe, he can teach this rich bitch a lesson, and still look cool in front of his friends.
Yet the more Brittany and Alex are around each other, the more they both realize that each is acting a part, portraying an image to the outside world that doesn't really exist. Learning this about each other really opens their eyes to how similar they really are, but how can two people from drastically different worlds ever be more than enemies?
A book like this reminds me why it's good to read Young Adult stories. As Christine mentions in her review, the story is written where each chapter alternates POV of Brittany and Alex, so it's told in first person but we see both sides of the story without having scenes repeated. So even though we don't really have each side to every event, the storyline was easy to follow and we get a strong idea of how each character reacts to what is happening to them. Written this way, it read rather quickly. It was very engrossing, actually, and I barely could put the book down. It's deceptively simple, yet hooks you from page one and holds on tight. These are the best kinds of stories.
Now this book is not breaking fresh ground here. There are no revelations here, but that's okay. What really impacted me was the vulnerability and honesty of these two young people. Brittany is in no way silly or vapid, other than the persona she adopts in public. Deep down she is a smart, caring young woman who loves her handicapped sister more than anything and is just trying to get by without the rest of the world finding out how screwed up her family is. Alex is tough and cocky, and he has his violent moments, but inside he yearns for what he believes he'll never have; a chance to make something of himself and protect the family he feels responsible for taking care of. Instead of shirking responsibility and only living for the moment like so many young guys his age are doing, he goes to school, and has a job. But he realizes it's only a matter of time that his decision to become a gangbanger will drastically change his whole world and a line will be crossed that he can't walk away from.
What I also liked about this book is that it doesn't take the easy way out. Answers to Brittany's and Alex's problems just don't miraculously appear at the last possible moment, and each of them has to deal with the obstacles and challenges between them rather than counting on having them easily resolved. It's messy, but more effective for having not followed the easy, predictable path. At the same time, it's hopeful. There is no tragic ending here for our young lovers. Some might say this is a safe read, but that's okay. Not every good story out there has to be tragic.
And as much as I enjoyed "Twilight", this book easily surpasses that one in evoking my stronger emotions. I still can't get it out of my head. Sure, there's all those intense, rollercoaster feelings you'd expect in a romance between two teenagers, but it's not so obsessive that it's creepy. It's not overly cynical and rampant with sex and drugs and bad behavior, but it doesn't shy away from those issues either.
Simone has a sequel coming out in May of 2010, called "Rules of Attraction". After reading "Perfect Chemistry", it's definitely on my TBB list.
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****