Perfect Chemistry by Simone Ekeles
Released: April 2010
Publisher: Simon&Schuster Children's Books (UK)
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.
For Brittany, getting partnered with Alex Fuentes is the end of the world. For Alex, it's an opportunity. An opportunity to win a bet with his mates and fellow gang members, to get one over on his rival, and to bring perfect Brittany Ellis down a peg or two. What neither of them expect is the true impact their partnership will have on their lives and the lives of those around them.
The story of Alex and Brittany is told in short, alternating chapters, perfect for getting inside the character's heads. It also makes the book virtually unputdownable as "one more chapter" turns into "two more chapters" "three more chapters" when the short insights leave you wanting more and more. The writing is gripping and undeniably teenage, very easy to read and get lost in.
Brittany is your typical all-American teenager on the outside, but on the inside lies a desperately insecure, desperately unhappy girl who wants nothing more than for her disabled sister Shelley to be happy. Brittany was really easy to like a result of this; you didn't get the 'poor little rich girl' vibe at all: it was really easy to sympathise with her and her situation. Alex was the perfect bad boy, with the gang bandanna and tattoos to prove it, yet surprisingly intelligent and caring. His character was totally realistic and I found myself saying his lines in a Spanish accent in my head because they were written exactly how I imagine he'd speak. I really liked the supporting cast of characters too--especially Isa, Brittany's unexpected ally.
The basic story is a fairly simple one: bad boy + good girl + parental/peer disapproval = sneaking around + intense relationship. But mixed up with this was the social issues of the differences between the people all living in the same town, going to the same school and yet completely divided, plus the strains that Alex being in a gang placed on everyone involved. Then there was the undercurrent of tension from Brittany's family wanting to send her sister away to a hospice, all of which added more dimensions and a bit more originality to the plot.
I read this in two sittings and, whilst I found the plot predictable, it was in more of a formulaic-for-this-type-of-book + a 'OMG I can tell what's going to happen and I'm just sat here waiting for it' way than in a negative cliche way. I really enjoyed reading it and I enjoyed the tension and the dread of knowing what was going to happen. The only things I will say, is that I would've liked the back-and-forth foreplay element of their relationship to have lasted a bit longer, the sort of covert flirting dressed up as snarky insults with undercurrents of sexual tension bit. That was over a bit too soon for my taste, but that's merely a personal preference. The only other thing I didn't particular like was the epilogue, which was a bit too sweet and slightly vomit-inducing in its perfectness. Remember the HP7 epilogue? Yeah.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable contemporary romance read with a bit of a twist to it, the niggles I had with it are minor and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.