Perfect Chemistry, Simone Elkeles

This was one of my ventures into reading books which I wouldn’t normally go for. I think I’ve mentioned that romances aren’t totally my thing. Much less books in the “real world.” (Gaspage, no speculative fiction? WHODATHUNK?) Ahem. But this one was so recommended, and it kinda had an interesting cover, and, well, I was grabbing books which people said were good off the shelves like I was on fire and ONLY THE BOOKS WOULD HELP.

Why yes, I have been known to scare people away when I’m in stores. Something about the wild eyes and the fact that I’m walking down aisles grabbing things with both greedy hands. But you know what? If you can’t take the crazy, get out of the bookstore.

This book takes place in a high school. A nice, normal high school in senior year. (It’s worth noting that I read A Match Made In High School back to back with this one. Despite technically being about the same age group, the feel of the story and actions of the characters are very, very different. Very different. There’s no branding in AMMIHS, for example.) It starts on the first day of the term, when Brittany and Alex are getting ready for school.

Brittany is blonde, pretty, rich and perfect. She has a perfect boyfriend with which she has a perfect relationship, she has perfect clothes which her perfect family buys for her, and she gets perfect grades. (Not too perfect- she’s not a nerd- but she’s a perfect cheerleader, not a dumb one.)

Alex is Latino, handsome, working class and tough. He lives and works on the wrong side of the tracks. He rides his motorcycle to school- which he attends when he isn’t needed by his gang. He’s even tough enough to get away with good grades. He might be a thug, but he’s a smart one. *Alex will hurt you if you make comments*

They are both firmly set in their lives- and then their chemistry teacher decides to be a jerk and seat people alphabetically. Alex and Brittany are forced to be partners for the remainder of the term. No, Brittany did not sniff her hair to make sure it didn’t smell bad. (That’s biology, remember?) Instead, she’s annoyed at him, and he’s almost less delighted, if that would be possible. They might have stayed happily hating each other, except that Alex’s friends tease him about the barbie he’s sitting with, and he bets his motorcycle that he’ll have sex with her by thanksgiving.

Enter romance!

Er, wait. Not yet. It’s pretty clear that they start seeing each other because there’s sexual attraction going on. (And Alex’s bet.) But as they start actually spending time in each other’s lives, they find out that the stereotypes of Tough Guy and Perfect Girl are not as true as they seem. Brittany’s perfect life is hiding some fairly intense “flaws,” and Alex doesn’t want the life he’s been jumped into. He’ll live up to it, but he didn’t want to chose it. The labels are, in fact, still true, but not in the way that you think when you see the blonde cheerleader and the bad boy on the motorcycle. In the end, Alex is tough in a way I was not at all expecting, and Brittany’s inflexible core allows her to chose what she wants in her life and not give in to whatever else other people want.

Despite that, they’re teenagers, in way over their heads, and I was extremely uncomfortable a lot of the time. I mean, they started seeing each other because of a BET, and well. He’s not in a good world. Spoiler, but he’s stabbed. A few weeks into the school year. Knife fight! Endspoiler. There’s a scene where Brittany gives herself a talking too and lists Alex’s good points, which are valid and considerable. This did a lot to calm my fears about the bet-induced beginning of the relationship. I still wasn’t very comfortable with most of the other things, though.

This is a GRITTY book. There’s drinking, lots of swearing in spanish, (which means it went over my head for the most part, yay,) drugs (though not too many) sex, and people die. People are are knifed, people are betrayed, people are shot, and people DIE. A main character is almost beaten to death. Sleeping around is taken for granted, (for everyone who isn’t a white girl, that is. But of COURSE boys and sluts latino girls are having sex with many people! White girls just are edgy cause they have sex with one person and are loyal.) And characters DIE.

Which, y’know, doesn’t usually happen in YA books. Or maybe I haven’t read realistic fiction in two long. That is possibly it. But I’d heard a lot about the gritty nature of the book, and somehow the DEATH wasn’t mentioned.

Which I guess means it’s normal? Huh, weird.

I wasn’t really comfortable with, well, a lot of the book. (I am not even talking about the sex scene. NOPE. I know nothing.) While I was relieved by the end, I wasn’t ever really rooting for the relationship. I was more rooting for characters to survive! With that said, it was well written, and I stayed up two hours past my bedtime to finish it. It was good, I just, was uncomfortable. My favourite parts were with the nerdy kid. Heheheh, and they were hilarious. (“This kid’s been in jail more times than me! Check out his rap sheet, his speciality is grand theft auto.” Heheheh.) I think I’m neither a bad boy nor a cheerleader, and if I was in a similar school I’d stay safely with the nerds. My kindred! Ahem. I gave it three stars out of five. I think I’ll be checking out more by the author, just, carefully. 😀

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6 thoughts on “Perfect Chemistry, Simone Elkeles

  1. Although I adore this book like nothing else, I can see your points. It's funny, but I hadn't even really thought about it as being gritty. Weird, right? But I loved Alex. Loved him. He made the whole book for me!
    Even if you didn't fall head over heels for Perfect Chemistry, I'm glad you read outside your comfort zone!

  2. You've been reading a LOT of romances lately, despite your claim that they're not your normal thing. XD

    Also, I've never really understood the term “gritty.” What people usually seem to mean by using it is that the thing it's describing is full of all human vices, which is trendy, and it describes those vices very thoroughly, which is also trendy.

  3. You are so wise, Bahnree. But I use “fluffy” to describe too, so am I allowed to use “gritty?” Plz?

    And yeah, I'm trying to read more outside of what I really LURVE, which means more Romance. And then each time I remember that it's not really my thing… sigh, silly me. 😀

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