Book Review: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
‘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 can’t remember now which blogger (or multiple bloggers), first convinced me to read these books, but I’m sending a big fat thank you out there to whoever you were! I would never have discovered these on my own, (for some reason I’ve never been drawn to contemporary YA — though thats changing quickly) and Simone Elkeles has quickly become one of my favourite authors. She certainly knows how to bring the swoon!
Anyone who is a fan of romance with a strong plot and well-written characters should check out Elkeles work. Perfect Chemistry (if you hadn’t guessed from all the glowing reviews on Goodreads) is an addictive read. The main reason is simply that Elkeles knows how to write fantastic chemistry (no pun intended) between her two leads, and one hell of an attractive guy, without falling to far into cheesy and cliché territory.
Alex and Brittany, complete opposites who come from two very different cultures, find themselves increasingly intrigued and attracted to one another. Paired together in chemistry class, the sparks soon begin to fly between them as they struggle with their growing feelings and discover they might have more in common then they first thought. There is definitely a Romeo and Juliet feel to Perfect Chemistry and the gang element provides an underlying danger and tension to the story — making what could have been just another teenage romance, refreshingly unique.
The attraction between these two characters is intense, but believable, and Elkeles gives us plenty of sizzling scenes and wonderful biting dialogue between the two. I loved Alex (well — who didn’t? He’s the guy all girls fall for but who all parents hate). He portrays the classic ‘bad-boy’ image to survive, caught in a world of violence and drugs inherited from his father. A member of the Latino Bloods, Alex is confident, intelligent and dangerous; and anxious to keep his family safe and stop his little brothers from following in his, and their fathers, footsteps. I was drawn into the story, as Alex struggles to keep his feelings for Brittany — who doesn’t fit into his world, under control; and has to make a choice between keeping the people he loves safe, and fighting for a future he’s not ready to admit he might actually want.
Brittany is an interesting character because she isn’t immediately the type of protagonist many readers will warm to. She is your typical, stunningly gorgeous, popular cheerleader type. Skinny, rich and blonde who (seemingly) cares only about how she looks. But a lot of this is actually a facade, and Elkeles develops a complex, relatable character, under constant pressure from a dysfunctional family to be perfect and one who desperately loves and worries about her disabled sister and I grew to like her character very much. As the story progresses we begin to see how both Brittany and Alex conform to an expected stereotype to protect themselves. I enjoyed watching Alex enjoyment of getting under Brittany’s skin and riling her up just because he can, turn into a determination to break down her walls, giving her the courage to be herself.
Perfect Chemistry isn’t a particularly original story and there is a bit of a cookie-cutter ending (which I still enjoyed because sometimes, I just want the cute, happy ending), but a fun read, with strong characters and a fantastically written romance. I can’t comment on whether the gang element was realistically portrayed, but it added a grittiness and depth to the story. This may be a love story at its core, but it tackles some difficult issues, gang life, stereotypes, cultural segregation, that puts Perfect Chemistry high above other high school romance novels out there. There are also some well-fleshed out secondary characters — Alex’s extended family, Mrs Peterson, Shelley, and in particular, Alex’s friend Paco. Though the first book in a series, Perfect Chemistry works just as well as a stand alone novel — for those who aren’t looking for another cliffhanger, you won’t find any here. I cannot recommend it enough.
Recommended Reading Age: 16+
Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
‘Carlos Fuentes isn’t happy about leaving Mexico to start the ‘new’ life his older brother, Alex, has planned for him. Carlos liked his freedom; living life on the edge and carving out his own path — just like Alex did.
Kiara Westford doesn’t talk much; preferring instead to shut the world out. And when Carlos bounds into her life she struggles to understand him and his wild ways. Carlos is sure Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, which is fine because he’s not interested anyway, right? But when they finally open up to each other, the connection they feel shocks them both. Can they overcome their fears and realise that sometimes opposites really do attract?’
For those of you who loved Perfect Chemistry, Rules of Attraction is a must-read. Everything that worked so well in the first book is all here, bad boy falling for good girl, cultural divides, but it still manages to stand apart from its predecessor.
As much as I love this book, it doesn’t have the same impact as Perfect Chemistry. That’s because the romance here is much more sweet and Carlos and Kiara don’t have the same obstacles to overcome as Alex and Brittany. Rules of Attraction focuses on the two leading characters with less back story, and though Carlos’s gang activities do play a part in the plot, it wasn’t a constant threatening presence, as it was in the first book.
Carlos is in many ways like Alex, but his cocky, wise-ass comments makes him a far less likeable character — at least to begin with. Whereas Alex came across as mature and intelligent enough to know what he was getting into but stepping up and doing it anyway to protect his family, Carlos is much more the ‘troubled-teen’ with a bad attitude, lured by the violence and danger of gang life. But, we do see his character grow and mature, after Kiara and her family prove there are people willing to stick by him, no matter how badly he treats them.
I really, really liked Kiara — in some ways more than Brittany — just because I could relate to her more as a person. She is shy, average looking and stutters when nervous. She lives in over large T-shirts and doesn’t care much about her appearance — the kind of girl who goes by quietly on the sidelines most of the time. But she also loves a challenge, can hold her own against Carlos, gives as good as she gets, is true to herself, is compassionate and is a caring, intelligent young woman (who happens to enjoy fixing cars). She was a pretty unique heroine and though she comes across as vulnerable to begin with, as the story progressed it became clear that she was actually the stronger of the two. Kiara and Carlos have a quieter, less explosive romance than Alex and Brittany’s. They have their share of banter and sizzling scenes, but it isn’t as intense as there is far less keeping them apart. I found the attraction between the two was well handled, though perhaps a little rushed.
It was also heartening to read about a close family (a rarity in YA fiction) and one who cared about Carlos and other ‘problem’ kids, enough to offer him a home and attempt to help him make something more of himself. Kiara’s father is one of those rare people/characters who sees past the stereotype, who actually cares — and though his role in the story felt a little unrealistic at times (especially towards the end), it was refreshing to read about someone like this in YA fiction. Like Perfect Chemistry, though Rules of Attraction is foremost a love story, it contains some important messages too.
Alex and Brittany both feature in this book, but on the sidelines and we get to see them more as individuals rather than as a couple. I warmed to Brittany even more, as she deals with Carlos’s scornful attitude and makes it clear she is there for him and wasn’t going anywhere, no matter how badly he acted towards her.
The ending felt too rushed and far too easily resolved which is a shame, and again we have another, slightly cheesy, epilogue, which will irritate some readers but I enjoy these books for what they are, a feel-good read and I personally like how Elkeles brings everything back in a full circle. Rules of Attraction doesn’t have quite a same edge to it as Perfect Chemistry, but Elkeles sure knows how to write some damn good flirtatious banter, sexual tension and ridiculously attractive male leads, while avoiding the bodice-ripper trap many romance novels fall into.
To be honest, the Fuentes boys are the only reason you need to pick these books up — and luckily, the third book in the series, Chain Reaction, is set to come out this August.
Recommended Reading Age: 16+