Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First of all, I want to thank my Goodreads friend, Shannon, for recommending this wonderful book. My life was so enriched by the reading of it. I also want to thank Ms. Simone Elkeles for putting fingers to keyboard and bringing this incredible story of the love between Alex and Brittany to life.
Life is cruel and harsh, and we all wear armor to protect ourselves against the pain of loss and the hardships we face. In Perfect Chemistry, we see two very different people who have a kindred soul. They are both walking through life wearing protection and disguises for their survival. One of the most illuminating and fascinating parts of this story is when these two reluctant chemistry partners are asked to tell the class a little bit about each other. What they say represents what the two of them want the world to see about themselves, even if that's not who they want to be.
Alex is a tough gangbanger, macho (and very appealing) Latino young man. He has pretty much had to join the Latino Bloods gang because his family and his own life would be in jeopardy otherwise. So far, he has managed to stay out trouble with the law, and to avoid crossing the line and killing and selling drugs. But the time is coming where he may not be able to prevent that transition. He sees Brittany and she is all he ever wanted but couldn't have. He tells himself that she's just a blond princess type, no substance, but he soon finds out that is far from the case.
I fell head over heels for Alex. He was not perfect, but even his imperfections endeared him to me. Under the scary, macho gang facade, he is a very perceptive, intelligent, and loving person. His caring nature is evident in how he treats his brothers and his mother, and even his friend Paco, and also how he treats Brittany, despite the teasing and sexual innuendoes. He comes off as being hardcore, but his heart is very good. I have to say that he was a very sexy guy. I was surprised at how much charisma this eighteen year-old kid was. I could imagine this drop dead gorgeous guy with black hair and dark eyes, a seductive smile, and a hard-body, riding his motorcycle. I am not big on gangs or the urban lifestyle, but this was so much a part of him, that it didn't lessen his appeal at all.
I loved seeing the world through his eyes, and enjoyed the authentic Latino/Mexicano flavor of his thoughts and language. I have a deep appreciation for Mexican culture, and I feel that Ms. Elkeles showed this in a manner that did it justice, adding to the depth and the characterization of Alex and flavoring the life he lives. Gosh, I cannot tell you how much I adored Alex. He made some bad choices, but also suffered for things beyond his control, and my heart ached to see what he had to go through. But deep down, I never doubted that he had a good head on his shoulders and he would end up doing the right thing in the end. I wanted for him to get out of that destructive lifestyle, and I was holding my breath hoping that he did.
I loved Brittany as well. She was a very three-dimensional character, even from the beginning. She might seem like the girl that I would avoid like the plague in high school, one of the shallow 'beautiful people,' but she had a really good heart, and was a very loving person. She was under tremendous stress trying to keep things together and maintain a perfect facade that was getting harder and harder to keep up. Her homelife was very difficult, with her hypercritical mother who was on the edge of emotional collapse, and her father who spent more time at work and thinking about work than interacting with his family. She is weighted down by her family's enormous expectations to always be perfect and to represent them well. Her steadfast love for her disabled, mentally-challenged sister really opened my heart to her, from the first page of the book. Shelley was very important to Brittany, although even her boyfriend was uncomfortable being around her. So she didn't let people come to her life or talk about Shelley. Not out of embarrassment, but because of the fact that Shelley was a private, personal part of her life that others didn't understand or know how to deal with. It meant a lot when she introduced Alex to Shelley and he hit it off with her right away.
Like Alex, Brittany impressed me as a very level-headed, mature for her age person. I really appreciated how she was able to look past Alex's scary gang facade and see the warm, loving boy inside. She inspired Alex to want to strive and to be the person he was meant to be. This book really teaches a lesson about judging a book by its cover. Brittany would be the kind of girl that would be envied by many. But the truth is, her life was very difficult, despite living in a big, beautiful house, driving an expensive car, and wearing designer clothes. Being the captain of the pom-pom team and dating the head quarterback isn't all it's cracked up to be, and Brittany knows this first hand. And it's clear that she would willingly give that up without any regrets to have a true love, even with someone so different from her as Alex. However, the fear of what will happen to Shelley if she lets go, keeps her on the narrow path that has been given to her to walk. It is wonderful when Brittany decides to go where her heart leads her, although she does have to deal with some anguish and heartbreak along the way.
This couple is one of my favorite couples of all times. That's saying something for this serious romance fan. I never thought I could feel that way about a couple in a young adult book, but I believe Twilight did open the door for me to young adult romance, and I am very glad about this. Alex and Brittany meet each other's needs in every way. They had blistering sexual chemistry between them, yet Ms. Elkeles wrote this book in such a way that I didn't feel conflicted about reading these teens expressing themselves sexually. You could see that every encounter came from a deep connection on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. I loved how they saw each other clearly in a way that no one else did. That is what soulmates should do for each other.
The cast of secondary characters added to the flavor and the depth of this beautiful story. Some of the people in both Alex and Brittany's life are not good for them, and do much to hinder their growth, but people like Paco, Alex's best friend, Isabel, a childhood friend of Alex who becomes Brittany's friend, Ms. Peterson, and Sierra, Brittany's friend, do their part to help Alex and Brittany on the journey to self-discovery and finding a future together. Ms. Peterson, their chemistry teacher, was the kind of educator that we need more of. She works hard to inspire her students, and didn't give up on Alex and write him off as just another Mexican gangbanger who was going to end up dead or in prison.
This book has some parts that were hard to read, but they needed to be there, because it is a story about a young man who is surrounded by violence and crime on a daily basis. There had to be some of this in the book, or it would have lacked authenticity. Fortunately, this does not detract from the story, but helps you to see what Alex is dealing with, and to respect him for the choices he makes to have a better future.
The climax of this book will have your heart in your throat, and tears welling up in your eyes. But the way this book ends gives the reader so much hope and joy. It's truly a perfect ending to this book.
I could go on and on about how wonderful Perfect Chemistry is, but I will end by saying, if you read one young adult book, please put this on the list to consider. You won't come out of this book without having your heart touched.
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