By Simone Elkeles
Publication date: 2008
My rating: *****
Brittany Ellis and Alex Fuentes are from two very different worlds. Brittany is a daughter of privilege with a bright future ahead of her and Alex has to fight for survival, joining a gang to protect his family. When their chemistry teacher pairs them up for a class project, insults and sparks fly. Neither of them expected to fall in love and the consequences for both of them are explosive.
Perfect Chemistry is more than it appears to be on the surface. I picked up this book expecting a hot romance (which there was) but what I also found was a moving story about two hurting teens with a lot of depth. Alex is probably my favorite character. He can be a mouthy, hotheaded troublemaker but he really cares about his family and his friends. He is a very smart young man who has been dealt a tough life and he wants something better for his brothers. His involvement with the gang is for the protection of his younger brothers and his mom. His dad was shot and killed in a drug deal when Alex was only six so he's had to be the man of the house all those years. Brittany's home life is not so dangerous but she also has difficulties mostly due to the high expectations that her parents have placed on her to be the perfect daugher since her older sister cannot. Brittany's sister has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair and Brittany's mother hires help to take care of her while she runs off to the country club. Brittany has to act as a barrier between her sister and her parents and at school Brittany feels that she has to have top grades and be as successful as possible to please her parents.
I enjoyed watching Brittany and Alex's mutual loathing turn to respect and then love. They both had so much going against them so I really wanted things to work out for them. I also found myself caring about some of the side characters like Isabel, a girl who bridges both worlds and reluctantly befriends Brittany, and Paco, Alex's best friend. The gang life portrayed was gritty and felt realistic. I thought that Alex's world was the best drawn and I enjoyed the chapters from his perspective the most.
Perfect Chemistry is one of my favorite books that I've read so far this year. It is the first book I've read by Simone Elkeles but it certainly won't be the last. The sequel, Rules of Attraction, is about Alex's brother Carlos and I can't wait to read it. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy romance as well as a really good story.