This is a Powerpuff Girls Collaboration, brought to you by Ana (aka Bubbles) and Katiebabs (aka Blossum) and on this occasion Kmont (aka Buttercup II). A Powerpuff Girls review is a fun way of combining forces between blogs: we all read the same book and post our thoughts on the same day. Enjoy ours and don’t forget to check the other two reviews later today.
Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: YA/ Romance
Publisher: Walker Books / Simon and Schuster UK
Publishing Date: Dec 2008 (US)/ 29 April 2010 (UK)
Paperback: 368 pages
Stand alone or series: It is a stand alone book with a sequel in the works.
How did I get the book: Bought
Summary: At Fairfield High, everyone knows that south siders and north siders aren’t exactly compatible elements. So when cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are forced to be lab partners, the results are bound to be explosive.
Neither teen is prepared for the most surprising chemical reaction of all – love. Can they break through the stereotypes and misconceptions that threaten to keep them apart?
Two teenagers, both alike in dignity.
In Fairfield, Chicago, where the story is set.
An ancient grudge between North and South, where difference sets apart, where prejudice lies.
For here the fateful story of the pair of star-crossed lovers takes place, whose adventurous relationship overthrows and doth with their love, bury their strife.
Paired off in Chemistry lab, by the Sympathetic Teacher who wishes to bridge a gap, are Mexican Alejandro Fuentes, infamous enforcer for the Latino Blood gang and Brittany Ellis, the ”perfect” white cheerleader. The story unfolds and the sparks fly, for Alejandro is a bad boy but not really and Brittany is brainless and superficial but not really. Once their façade falls, all that there is left is chemistry. Alas, if only, Brittany’s life wasn’t so dysfunctional and if only Alejandro’s wasn’t so dangerous.
If you think you heard it all before, well, yes, you have. Perfect Chemistry is a contemporary Romeo and Juliet/ West Side Story minus the tragic ending. The premise is definitely not original and it’s full of clichéd secondary characters from the Best Friend who sacrifices himself, to the Supportive Teacher; from the Heart-Warming Mexican family to the Dysfunctional All-American one. The story follows a well-known and tried path and not once deviates from its expected route. There are no surprises here and the author takes the safe, predictable all the way to the happily ever after.
What makes this a good book then? The heart and soul that the writer infuses her main characters with, that makes them REAL which in turn, makes the reader care. THAT is what sets apart good books and bad books that depart with a well-known premise: the writer’s ability to take a well-known story, execute the plot without any surprises and still make one feel deeply connected and to care about what happens to the characters because they have depth.
Alejandro and Brittany narrate their own story and the chapters alternate between their first person, present tense narrative. With the progression of a perfectly fine love story that relies not on the looks of the protagonists but how they slowly reveal themselves to each other. Brittany comes from a highly dysfunctional family, with an absent father, a superficial mother and a sister who has a disability. She tries to be perfect: perfect daughter, perfectly dressed, with perfect grades and the perfect boyfriend – all in an attempt to be what her beloved sister can never be. Her relationship with the sister, her caring and protection for the girl is extremely well-done and relatable. She is perfectly willing to sacrifice for the sake of her sister and she creates this façade in public that she is only able to remove when Alejandro is around.
This willingness to sacrifice and the need for a public mask is what connects them. They recognise in each other what others can’t see. Alejandro is a member of the gang because he has no other choice but to follow on his father’s footsteps in order to prevent his younger brothers to fall on the same life. He is an enforcer for the gang but has tried to keep away from actually getting involved in any drug deals directly but he knows that it is only a matter of time. He knows violence and he knows poverty. His life is no joke and the author does not shy away from showing the grittiest aspects of his life.
I loved Alejandro – it is easy to do so, especially if you like bad boys that are not jerks. He is adorable in a gruff way and when he starts to fall for Brittany and calls her “querida” or “mamacita” , it was all I could do not to melt right there, on the spot.
But I think the greatest character in the book is actually Brittany: how refreshing to see a girl that is not a moron, that does not fall for the guy simply because he is there and he is hot. She is extremely loyal to her sister and to Alejandro: when she realises she is in love with him, she never faults, she is right there with him, trying to help him to accomplish his deep-seated dreams.
This book is not about changing personalities in order to be together: I loved that. This is about embracing who one really is and by doing that, they have to change their stance about life. Alejandro needs to get away, and Brittany needs to accept that there are things she can’t control. It is about changing one’s circumstances and for that, the book has a wonderful hopeful message of acceptance.
I do have to say that the denouement of the novel felt over simplistic though. The matter of the fact is that Perfect Chemistry differs from Romeo and Juliet or even West Side Story where perhaps it matters the most. There is no enmity between Brittany and Alejandro that prevents them from being together. It is their circumstances that do so but even their circumstances do not carry the same gravity. Alejandro hails from a way worse life and has much more to lose than parental disapproval. He stands to lose his life and his brothers and mother may well lose theirs as well. It sort of grated that characters that should know better including Brittany kept telling Alejandro that he could just choose to leave his gang life when it was clear that it is not that easy.
Having said all that, I can proceed with overanalysing the book but really, ultimately Perfect Chemistry is a damn good love story with a hopeful message of bridging gaps and one that goes beyond falling in love and then dying for it; it is about the possibility of facing life that falling in love presents.
And oh yes. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Alejandro is totally drool worthy even more so when he lets Brittany make her only decisions and this part here almost made into a pile of mush:
“Mujer, tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you. If it’ll make you happy for me to leave you alone for the rest of your life, say the word”.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
A little bit of Alex’s narrative:
“I want to know how to make this girl laugh. I want to know what makes her cry. I want to know what it feels like to have her look at me as if I’m her knight in shinning armor”
From Brittany’s list of positive things about Alex:
He is smart
He has eyes so expressive they give a hint to more than what he portrays
He’s dedicated to his friends, family, and even his motorcycle
He touched me as if I were made of glass
He kissed me as if he’d savor it for the rest of his life.
You have no idea how much I appreciate that she lists smarts and dedication before kisses.
Additional Thoughts: Don’t forget to check KB’s and Kmont’s reviews today. I will add the links as they go live.
ETA: Kmont’s is up! Here.
and KB’s!: Here
Verdict: This is a good contemporary Romeo and Juliet story, but with a happy ending. Despite a few misgivings, the romance is totally, completely amazing. It has heart and soul, and a great pair of protagonists.
Rating: 7 – very good (leaning towards an eight)
Reading Next: Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier