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Perfect Chemistry is a “Bad Boy” Romance

February 20, 2010

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
published by Walker Books for Young People December 23, 2008

Brittany is “perfect,” with golden hair and voluptuous breasts on a size-four body. She is a college-bound high school senior and captain of the pom-pom squad. Alex is a sexy Latino bad boy, a gang-banger who invariably acts exceptionally obnoxious when he gets around Brittany. They are assigned as lab partners in chemistry, and sexual tension starts to simmer.

The author takes these two characters, who are dangerously close to being one-dimensional stereotypes, and shows us that here is more to them than meets the eye. We see the way Brittany tenderly cares for her much loved, severely disabled sister, her painful family situation, and her insecurity. We see Alex’s fierce protectiveness toward his mother and two younger brothers and his regrets about the gang life he was thrust into.

Shifting smoothly between two points of view — Brittany’s and Alex’s — the author lets their animosity and — inevitably — their passion and romance blossom. There were many things about this story that strained credibility for me, but I was willing to forgive the author because it was such a darn fun read. And I was intrigued by this West Side Story scenario, wondering whether it would end the same way, with our heroine cradling the head of her dying lover. The novel expanded the boundaries of the characters’ stereotypes and offered an addictive story.

Things I Really Liked:
1. The novel was well-paced and suspenseful, with plenty of romance and sexual tension to hold a reader’s interest tightly. It was hard to put down!
2. This author really knows how to describe heightening affection, attraction and sexual tension.
3. We got to know the two main characters, and a few of the secondary characters, well enough to care about them. They never fully shed their stereotypical aspects, but they were definitely engaging.
4. There were several very tender moments between Alex and Brittany.
5. Many scenes were vivid, “real,” and funny. For example, when they were at Alex’s cousin’s wedding, I felt I was watching the whole colorful, humorous scene, as if it were part of a movie.
6. The epilogue made me laugh out loud.
7. While the novel was written for entertainment, it brushed on some serious themes: racism, violence, the difficulty of looking past stereotypes, loyalty, love, and some of the serious challenges teens face today.

Things I Disliked:
1. Some aspects of the story annoyed me. A lot. For example, “the bet” struck me as the granddaddy of cliched storylines.
2. I was happy to suspend disbelief, as I did when I watched West Side Story. But this novel’s portrayal of gang life really seemed to push the envelope.
3. I don’t like teenage girls being sold on “bad boys.” Trust me, those obnoxious guys you meet, with sociopathic tendencies, are not going to turn out to be sweet and loyal in the end, like Alex. I realize this is fiction, but the message scares me a little.
4. Some horrendous events happened near the end, and I felt emotionally detached from them. They didn’t feel like real experiences with real consequences. They just felt like threads of the story being neatly tied up. Considering most of this story’s power came from human emotions, I felt cheated.

The author started with deliberately cliched characters, and a compelling but rather predictable tale of star-crossed lovers, and stretched the boundaries — making me care about these characters and keeping me hooked with suspense and romantic tension. For me, it never quite transcended the stereotypical aspects, and it strained credibility further than I was willing to go. But it was a really good read. I can see that Simone Elkeles has a great deal of talent, and I look forward to her future novels.

I borrowed this book from your beloved local library.

Read Other Reviews:
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Jen Robinson’s Book Page
A Patchwork of Books
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The Book Smugglers
The Book Pushers
Pure Imagination
Totally Shelf Absorbed
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The Story Siren
Once Upon a Romance
Did I Miss Yours??


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