Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Ekeles

Found Via: A Chaire, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Apparently I'm stuck on "perfection" this week! Unfortunately, that really only extends to the title on this one - unlike Almost Perfect, I wasn't really enamored with this one.

Perfect Chemistry is the age-old story of Romeo & Juliet, with a little bit of Pygmalion thrown in for good measure, only this time there's Brittany Ellis, who is rich and white with parents who expect nothing less than perfection from her, and Alejandro "Alex" Fuentes, who is a Mexican immigrant (at least I'm pretty sure he was born in Mexico - he may be Mexican-American) and a reluctant gang member focused on keeping his family safe in dangerous gang turf. It's the beginning of senior year and a strict chemistry teacher forces Alex and Brittany to sit together, despite the fact the two seem to hate each other. Even though Brittany is initially terrified of Alex, romance blossoms.

When I was reading this book, I tweeted that Alex was creeping me out "like Edward Cullen-style creep out." Because this book seems to suffer from the same delusion as Twilight: boys that are mean to you are, in fact, irrepressibly sexy. Alex constantly sexually harasses Brittany (he says in their introductions in chemistry class that she wants to have sex with him, even though that's demonstrably not the case), he briefly kidnaps her, and is just generally an unpleasant person. Brittany isn't the nicest person at the beginning, either, but since her insults don't go much beyond "Fuck you" and she can't physically force Alex to do anything, she doesn't come off as nearly abusive. The Pygmalion aspect comes from Alex accepting a bet from his buddies that he'll be able to sleep with Brittany, despite the fact that when this bet is made she's happily dating a dreamy boy (that happens to share her & Alex's chemistry class, and assumes the worst of Brittany in the face of Alex's taunts. So yeah, he's not really that dreamy, either).

The positive notes on this novel come when the story strays from the romance and show Brittany and Alex's home lives. Alex is an unwilling rising star in his gang - he only joined to protect his family and is dead set against either of his younger brothers being recruited into the gang. Alex's family life is one of the most compelling parts of the novel, and is utterly heart breaking at times. Brittany's parents, on the other hand, seem to put up the veneer of perfection in order to compensate for Brittany's older sister with cerebral palsy. Another heart breaking family story, as it seems that Brittany is the only one who really looks out for and cares about her sister.

Stories like this are why I generally don't wander into the romance genre. It's one thing to play on the trope of opposites attracting, but it's a whole other thing when one of the "opposites" is as malicious and scary as Alex gets.

The discussion is still going on yesterday's What About Team Bella? post, so if you haven't checked it out already, pop over there!
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