Author: Simone Elkeles (author website)
Release Date: DATE
Age Group: Young Adult
Perfect Chemistry isn’t a fluffy contemporary. It isn’t sweet. We’re talking about gang violence, living with disability, and the cost of relationships that really are difficult and forbidden for a reason. But it shines. It doesn’t paint an idealistic picture. No, in this world—the real one—even the right choices have consequences.
In their final year of high school, the two most unlikely students possible are forced to pair as Chemistry partners. Popular and pretty, golden girl Brittany Ellis is… perfect. Or at least the face she shows the world is. With the perfect football captain boyfriend, perfect house, perfect clothes and perfect grade point average, senior year should be every inch as perfect as she is. But as the last boy she’d ever imagine—or allow herself—to fall for starts creeping under her skin, her carefully managed façade starts slipping, along with the one thing she never lets go: her control.
Alex Fuentos knows he has no future. But he’s resigned to that. After buying his family’s protection by joining the deadly Latino Bloods when barely a teen, he forfeited the chance for college and any dreams for himself. When Alex’s friends bet he can’t get Brittany Ellis into bed, he accepts the challenge with gusto… but finds himself drawn to Brittany in a way that has nothing to do with a stupid challenge.
It doesn’t take long to see Alex and Brittany share a chemistry that has nothing to do with science projects…
‘Perfect’ Brittany Ellis has, for all intents and purposes, everything a person could want. A whole family, money, friends. But nothing in Brittany’s life is real, not even herself. The Brittany we’re privileged to see, the Brittany’s whose head we ride is something more. Something complex. It sounds trite, but Brittany has secrets. Secrets that shouldn’t hold shame, which she shouldn’t need to hide. Brittany could be, and is, any number of things, but most of all, she’s real. Brittany is hurting. She’s angry. She’s flawed. But she’s brave and loyal and selfless, and despite the perfect face she presents, she’s easy to empathise with. It’s a beautiful thing to witness as she learns to open her heart, and let the people who matter in, to make choices for herself because she wants to, not because she feels she must.
What Elkeles nails perfectly in Perfect Chemistry is complex characterisation, and it’s no more present than in Alex Fuentos. Torn between his loyalty to his family, his gang, and to the girl he’s only just begun to know but seems to matter as much to him as the people he’s pledged his life to protect, he’s fascinating to watch. Despite what he’s caught up in, Alex is smart, and capable of whatever he puts his mind to, but he believes his future already decided. While Brittany must make difficult choices in Perfect Chemistry, Alex must run the gauntlet. Lives hinge on his loyalties. From the outside, it’s easy to look at a person who’s involved himself in an organisation that exists to perpetrate crime and judge, but Alex is more than a thug, or a naïve child. He’s a victim of circumstance, as any person in his situation could so easily be. What makes him such a compelling hero is his self-awareness, and that he does hold the power to break himself free. To make the decision to have a better life; to believe in dreams, when he’d convinced himself a future of his own making was not a possibility.
Our modern day Romeo and Juliet come from wildly different places and backgrounds, but they’re drawn together by similarities and a magnetism that transcend culture or race or socioeconomic standing. Both understand showing a face to the world, when they’re breaking and struggling inside. Both would give anything for the people they love most. Both desperately long for something more, something real in their lives, something that is theirs, and theirs alone. The sense of longing, of aching for something more is what hits home and draws the pair together, lending the story a stinging poignancy.
The contrast between the loving families of the poor, and cold ‘perfect’ facades of the privileged in Alex and Brittany’s world is bleak. Their town is literally divided by the ‘other side of the tracks,’ with families on both sides tearing themselves apart for equally pointless reasons. But the story is seasoned not with helplessness, but hope. Even when the situation is at its darkest, there’s a sense that these lives can be changed, that the world can be a better place. That at the very least two lives can be real and happy and right, if their owners can be brave enough to make the difficult—but right—choices.
Perfect Chemistry is about choice. The hard choices. The wrong ones and the right ones, and the little decisions we make every day for us and for others; the enormous way in which they shape our lives. It’s about learning to live for oneself, as well as others. But while Perfect Chemistry definitely has a message, it’s never preachy, or at the expense of the narrative.
We’re talking about kids caught up in gangs. Violence, drug deals, beatings and murder. Perfect Chemistry deals with heavy issues, while avoiding feeling bleak, and not making the mistake of being flip or frivolous. It’s filled with layered, truly wonderful characters, each with their own unique personalities, both secondary and main. Told in Brittany and Alex’s wildly different points of view, Perfect Chemistry is confronting yet fun, heartwarming mixed with heartbreaking, and a compelling, beautiful read.
Books in This Series:
- Perfect Chemistry
- Rules of Attraction
- Chain Reaction (2013)