Monday, April 26, 2010


I have to confess that the first thing that drew me to PERFECT CHEMISTRY was the cover art, as it was the first YA book I'd ever seen with a Hispanic male on it, and second, upon reading the back and learning that one of the points-of-view was that of a Mexican gang-banger, I couldn't resist. I grew up in a Southern California barrio surrounded by gangs, and although I don’t know what it means to belong to one, I certainly know what it's like to live in constant fear of them.
On the surface, Chicago high-school seniors Brittany Ellis and Alex (Alejandro) Fuentes have nothing in common. She’s the rich “snow girl” obsessed with projecting a perfect image, and he’s a feared Mexican gang member believed to be involved in drug deals and drive-bys. When they’re forced to pair-up by their chemistry lab teacher, not only do their masks gradually come off, but sparks fly -- aversion giving way to sympathy, mutual understanding and attraction.
Elkeles alternates between two first-person points-of-view that are so dramatically different that the constant switching jolted me. Having said that, once I got into the rhythm, I looked forward to getting the opposing character's perspective.
I started out disliking Brittany's self-absorbed, rich girl from the South Side, wanting to appear perfect persona. That didn't last long, though, as once I discovered her true motivations and feelings, my dislike quickly gave way to sympathy.
I found Alex's perspective most compelling as he sheds light on the tragic circumstances that led to his life with the Latino Blood, the gang’s role in his and his family’s lives, and the consequences he'd face should he ever refuse certain duties, or decide to leave. Without giving anything away, his story gave me insight into aspects of gang membership I’d never really considered.
As I saw the story through Alex’s eyes, I wondered how non-Spanish-speaking readers might get through all the Spanish words; there are A LOT of them. Perhaps the author and publisher suspected that their target reading audience would be like me, Spanish-speaking. If you do decide to read this book and are not bilingual, I suggest you have a Spanish/English Dictionary handy, or you might find yourself frustrated.
My only complaint about this otherwise insightful and easy-to-read story is the ending, that in my opinion, didn't fit the story. But that's me. I'll leave it to others who've read this book to weigh in with their opinions.

To learn more about the author, Simone Elkeles and PERFECT CHEMISTRY, visit: