Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 357 pages, 2009

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I occasionally like to check out teen books just to see what’s out there.

Synopsis: Brittany Ellis appears to have it all – a perfect boyfriend, rich parents, popularity; whereas Alex Fuentes seems to be well down a dark path – he’s a gang member pursued by rumours of drug deals and womanizing. But surfaces only go so deep, and when Alex and Brittany are forced to partner up in their chemistry class, they start to discover that appearances are deceiving, and chemistry class can have explosive results…

Why you should read this book: What teenage girl wouldn’t want to read Perfect Chemistry? There is a good-looking bad boy and a golden girl with a hidden dark side, plenty of sexual tension and romance, and lots of urban edginess stemming from Alex’s gang membership. The book is told from both Brittany and from Alex’s point of view, giving us a welcome male vs. female perspective as attraction starts to grow between the two teens. The characters are complex – people look at Brittany and think that she’s perfect, but she hides away her family life (and a huge part of herself) to keep up this image in order to make her mother happy. Alex may have a hidden heart of gold, but nothing can change the fact that he’s in a gang to protect his mother and younger brothers. No matter what his intentions, issues within the gang are rising and rising until Alex realizes he’ll either have to do something against his morals or possibly die trying to escape from gang life. Both characters are well-written and believable teenagers despite having such different backgrounds, the story is filled with romantic intrigue, Alex especially loves flirting with danger, and there is just enough sexiness to make sure a so-called ‘non-reader’ will keep reading until the very end. Teenage readers, put down Twilight and come see this new bad boy.

Why you should avoid this book: This is the type of book that teenagers would actually love to get their hands on, but parents might find themselves reluctant to allow because of some of the content. I know – typing that was practically a dare to pick up the book, wasn’t it?

Opening paragraph:

Everyone knows I’m perfect. My life is perfect. My clothes are perfect. Even my family is perfect. And although it’s a complete lie, I’ve worked my butt off to keep up with the appearances that I have it all. The truth, if it were to come out, would destroy my entire picture-perfect image.

Fabulous quotes:

‘What?’ I say, staring blindly at the words on the page. I have no clue what I’m reading because I’m too embarrassed to concentrate.
‘You were lookin’ at me like you wanted to kiss me.’
I force a laugh. ‘Yeah, right,’ I say sarcastically.
‘Nobody’s watchin’ if you want to, you know, try it. Not to brag, but I’m somewhat of an expert.’
He gives me a lazy smile, one that was probably created to melt girls’ hearts all over the globe.

I’m sitting in calculus when the security guard knocks on the door and tells the teacher I need to be escorted out of class. Rolling my eyes, I grab my books and let the guy have his kicks by humiliating me in front of an audience.
‘What now?’ I ask. Yesterday I was pulled out of class for starting a food fight in the courtyard. I didn’t start it. I might have participated, but I didn’t start it.
‘We’re taking a little trip to the basketball courts.’ I follow the guy to the courts. ‘Alejandro, vandalism to school property is very serious business.’
‘I didn’t vandalize anything,’ I tell him.
‘I got a tip that you did.’

Also recommended: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares; Madapple by Christina Meldrum.

Also by this author: How to Ruin My Teenage Life; How to Ruin a Summer Vacation; Leaving Paradise.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Elkeles usually finishes her books in three or four months while under deadline, but took almost five years to write Perfect Chemistry, working on it on and off between other projects.

Would I read more by this author? Maybe. But I’d definitely pass them along to teens, and I wouldn’t even feel tragically uncool doing so.

&#169 Lisa Yanaky 2003-2009

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