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Monday, October 19, 2009:
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (2008)
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. 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.

I admit that I don't read much YA romance anymore, not since I was a pre-teen to be exact, but from time to time I'll pick up something that intrigues me or has been given rave reviews by a fellow reader, especially one whose opinion I trust

Such is the case with "Perfect Chemistry". Blogger Christine had been talking about this one awhile back, and it definitely got me interested. The fact that it was set in Chicago piqued my curiosity even more. Then I read the back cover blurb and just knew that this was a book I had to read. Finally, this past weekend, I did.

"Perfect Chemistry" was a quick read for me; I devoured it in less than a day, but don't let that fact fool you. True, it's not filled with complicated dialogue, but it is a deeper story than one would imagine. It's cliche' in that you have the perfect princess matched up with the ultimate bad boy - in this case an acual gang member - yet it's endearingly fresh and bittersweet.

Brittany Ellis is the so-called perfect princess, and of course it's not surprise she's dating her perfect counterpart, golden boy Colin Adams. They've been apart all summer, but surely this was true love, so of course they pick up where they left off as they start their first day of senior year. But Brittany didn't count on a run-in with the most dangerous boy in school, Alejandro Fuentes, or that they would end up as partners in Chemistry class together.

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?

My thoughts:

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 *****

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  1. Ana from Book Smugglers and Kmont at Lurve Ala Mode also posted our reviews for Perfect Chemistry today!

    I really have to thank Christine for reviewing Perfect Chemistry. From her review I read the book. It was a wonderful read and one of my favorite YA books I read this year.

  2. Wow, I will definitely add this to my tbr! I have read four great reviews of this book! How fun :)

  3. I loved this book and could not get it out of my mind either. I even had my daughter read it and I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.

    Great review!

  4. I just put this book on my TBB list! Haven't read a YA novel in a while...

  5. I LOVE your review, Stacy. I think we both got the same exact things out of reading this book.

    It means so much to me to know that my little review (and Twitter talk) encouraged you to read PERFECT CHEMISRTY and that you loved it so much! And KB, too! Yay! :)

    I have some chemistry professor following me on Twitter now because I tweeted so much about "perfect chemistry"! LOLOL! Maybe he figured me out and unfollowed me by now... but I thought that was pretty funny! :o)

  6. OK, sold. Between you, Katiebabs and Ana, I have to read this book!

  7. Fantastic review Stacy! Between you and Christine I've definitely added this to my TBR list...and I haven't even read Ana (Book Smugglers) and Kmont's (Lurve A La Mode) reviews yet :)

  8. This is so cool to see all the different outlooks on this book today.

    YA is not a normal purchase for me but hearing so much about this one makes me want to buy it. :)

  9. I read this book. I really enjoyed it too. Couldn't get it out of my head and read it in a day. I had my friend read it and she devoured it too.

  10. I really liked this book, too, Stacy. You're right, it's not an original plot--just a fresh twist on a classic plot, which something I love. And the characters of Alex and Brittany were absolutely great and believable. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

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