By: Simone Elkeles
Published By: Walker Books for Young Readers
Release Date: Dec. 23, 2008
Series: Perfect Chemistry (#1)
Genre: Contemporary / Romance
Reading Level: Young Adult
Buy the Book: Amazon
Goodreads Summary: 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 heard a lot of good things about this book, but for some reason I kept putting off reading it. But after hearing Simone talk at the Austin Teen Book Festival, I knew that I had to move this book up on my to-read list, and I am so glad I did.
Brittany has worked hard to make sure that her life appears perfect to everyone else, but in reality, her life at home is in relative shambles. On the outside, however, she is co-captain of the pom squad, has the football boyfriend, and takes great care of her appearance. She has her senior year planned already. Then everything changes when she becomes chemistry partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the wrong side of town. She tries to get out of their partnership, but their chemistry teacher won't allow it. Brittany finds herself inexplicably drawn to Alex; soon she is finding ways to spend more time with him and is thinking about him more than she should. And while Alex may have just been trying to ruffle Brittany's feathers at first, he can't deny that there is something more between them. Yet Alex has his own family issues, and he knows the life he's chosen for himself. Can Brittany and Alex make things work despite the odds?
Both Brittany and Alex are characters that could have so easily fallen into stereotypical molds, and yet they didn't. Though the characters could perhaps be considered cliche (the "perfect" girl who isn't perfect, the gangster who wants to be better), these characters became so real to me that I didn't mind. I loved that we got to see both Brittany and Alex's points of view in this book. The chapters alternate between them, so we really get to know them both. Brittany, instead of coming across as "that girl" that most people would have hated in high school (and in fact many people in the book do), was very relatable. I really appreciated the compassion that she had for her sister and the fact that she finally gathered the courage to speak her mind. My heart broke for Alex on more than one occasion, which meant that I had to keep reading because I had to know that everything would be alright. And when everything is alright...talk about steamy (YA steamy, of course).
I also loved the realism in this book; Simone does not shy away from any situations, but everything is handled very tastefully. With this, there are a variety of slang Spanish expressions in this book. Some I understood, and some I didn't; while I could usually gather the meaning from the context, I do wish there had been translations. I'm also not sure how I felt about the epilogue - I liked the idea of it, but it will be interesting to see how that does or does not affect the future books.
Perfect Chemistry lives up to its name - there is sizzling chemistry between Alex and Brittany, and while their relationship isn't flawless, it is the imperfections that make it perfect. I am so glad that the rest of the trilogy has already been published so that I don't have to wait to read more of these books!