Auuugh, I am so far behind on my book reviews! That was bound to happen eventually, though, as I’m basically the worst blogger ever. So here goes. Perfect Chemistry is another book I won in Cindy’s awesome giveaway, which is great, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, as I don’t read much contemporary YA.
Basically: Perfect Chemistry is a YA romance in which Brittany, all-around perfect rich girl and captain of the pom squad, and Alex, a Latino gang member from the wrong part of town, are paired together to do a chemistry project. (Get the title now? Huh, do you?) They can’t stop fighting, but it’s all secretly foreplay and the sexual tension runs wild. Things don’t go well, though, when Brittany’s family life turns out to not be so perfect at all, and Alex’s gang wants him to take the leap into drug deals and murder. Can two such different people with such different problems ever find happiness together?
I really, really enjoyed this book. It hit on a bunch of my favorite tropes: Alex is secretly very smart and is only in the gang to protect his family, and he’ll do anything to keep his brothers out of it! He’s tough on the outside but has a soft and sweet center, like some kind of gourmet candybar! And, uh, let’s not analyze exactly why rich girl/poor boy (and good girl/bad boy, or in this case head cheerleader/gang member) romance set ups appeal to me too much, okay? And I love, love, love “we bicker because of our sexual tension.” It’s kind of my favorite romance trope of all.1 This book basically gave me everything I want in a romance and was incredibly fun to read.
General spoilers after this cut.
That said, to pull of a story that really does hit so many common tropes, the writing needs to be fantastic and I’m not sure Elkeles’ was really there. The novel is split between Alex’s and Brittany’s POVs (both first person), and neither voice felt entirely authentic. For example, at one point Brittany says to a friend:
“You want to know what it’s like to be Brittany Ellis? I’ll tell you. I’m insecure, just like anyone else. And have more pressure on me to put on an act, so people’s image of me isn’t shattered and they don’t see that I’m really just like anyone else. And that makes me more vulnerable and more scrutinized, and more susceptible to gossip.”
Two things: one, who talks like that? and two, I don’t know, but I certainly wasn’t that self aware when I was in high school. And every single character is like that, with a very deep self-knowledge of his or her motivations and psychological issues, and wiling to expound on them in paragraph form.
In general, I also wanted the plot points to be bigger. I loved that when Brittany decided to dump her jackass boyfriend, it wasn’t because of Alex, it was because she just didn’t like him anymore, but it was also the point when she realized she didn’t care what people think, and I wanted more about why she realized that. There was a subplot where Alex made a bet that he could sleep with her by Thanksgiving, but the payoff didn’t feel very big. At one point, someone frames Alex for painting graffiti on the school wall, and that never comes back. Brittany is really upset about her sister (who has mental and physical developmental problems) being sent to live in a group home — but then it turns out it’s all okay in the end. The pacing was also a little bit wonky, especially in the last third. The POV changes every chapter didn’t help, because if the action was focused on one character there was still an obligation to switch to the other for a few pages. And there was the climax, and then skip a few months, and then a chapter, and then skip a few more months, and then the end.
On the other hand, aside from the tropes I already listened, there were a lot of things I genuinely liked about the book. I loved the friendships between girls throughout, Brittany learning to trust her best friend, and the subplot where she becomes friends with Isabel, one of Alex’s friends, is probably my favorite non-romance part of the story. I was impressed by the way Brittany’s family dynamics were presented, showing how stressful it could be for the whole family to cope with her sister’s disability (including how frustrated the sister herself was). I even enjoyed the hard-ass chemistry teacher (who rang much more true to me than most “cool” teachers in fiction), and found the “Gary Finkle is a badass” running gag hilarious. (Though I’m not sure it was meant to be a gag at all.)
So overall, like I said, I really enjoyed this. I will definitely read the sequel. The story is what it is, and the writing didn’t quite pull it off, but reading it was like watching a bad movie for fun. You know what you’re in store for, and if you’re in the mood for it, it’s really entertaining.
Also, there’s a Perfect Chemistry rap.
- No lie, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite romance of all time. ↩