Thursday, November 28, 2013
PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles
The PERFECT CHEMISTRY series is extremely popular with the girls in my 8-10th grade classroom. The books are never on the shelf because they are constantly being passed from reader to reader. After reading the first book, I believe I understand the appeal.
PERFECT CHEMISTRY is the stereotypical tale of forbidden love between the privileged girl and the "bad" boy. Set in the suburbs of Chicago, the story has the romance, drama, and personal/family problems that connect to with teen readers everywhere.
Brittany is a pretty blonde member of the pom squad. She may be one of the most popular girls at Fairfield High School, but she has managed to avoid being a "mean" girl type. Perhaps that is because she secretly faces challenges at home that keep her grounded in reality. Brittany's socialite mother expects Brittany to be perfectly dressed, perfectly behaved, and involved with only perfect people. Brittany is convinced all this emphasis on perfection is to hide the fact that she has an older sister who is far from perfect. Shelley has cerebral palsy and must be cared for 24 hours a day. She is unable to feed herself, clothe or bathe herself, and is only able to communicate using her own language of grunts and nonsense noises. Despite their incredibly different worlds, Brittany and Shelley are close, and Brittany lives in constant fear of her parents' threats to send Shelley to live in some institution they claim is better suited for her needs. Brittany believes they are simply trying to hide away their oldest child to make their own lives easier.
Alex is Hispanic and survives because of his wit and street smarts. Being a member of the Latino Blood gang is not what Alex wants, but it is the only way he can assure the safety of his family. The secret he harbors is the dream of college and a better life away from the gang lifestyle, but there are days when that seems like a impossible dream. It is difficult to keep up appearances with the gang and also meet the demands of family and school. His tough guy reputation makes him an easy target for a school administration looking to place blame for anything that upsets the regular routine of Fairfield High.
When a demanding chemistry teacher pairs Brittany and Alex as lab partners for the year, interesting things begin to happen. Brittany's boy friend Colin is pressuring her to have sex, and Alex's buddies make a bet that he can't get his pretty, blonde lab partner into bed. Thrown together as lab partners, the two try to hate one another, but "chemistry" seems determined to bring them together.
Author Simone Elkeles connects with teens with just the right amount of drama and romance. The complications in her characters' personal lives create an appeal that has readers forming attachments that pull them eagerly from one book in the series to the next. Once one reader is hooked, more will follow.