Then a friend bets that Alex can't get Brittany in the sack. At first Alex just can't resist rising to the challenge, but before long he and Brittany are connecting in ways neither of them ever imagined...
I'd heard a lot about Perfect Chemistry before I started reading it. I'd seen the glowing reviews, the five out of five star ratings, and to be honest I was slightly mystified. A romance between a gang member and a cheerleader? I liked the idea, but I still couldn't work out what the magic ingredient was that had so many reviewers enamoured with this book.
Having read Perfect Chemistry, I think the clue is most definitely in the name. Just as a potential love interest might look pretty good on paper but rock your world in person, Perfect Chemistry has a unique blend of charm, passion and sincerity that combine to make it one irresistible read. So while I'm not really a devotee of contemporary romance, this book well and truly swept me up from the first page to the last. Put it this way: when you find yourself crying a few tears whilst reading on the bus and you don't even care who's looking, you know a story has gotten under your skin.
Perfect Chemistry is romance, but it's definitely not all hearts-and-flowers. This is a story about two troubled characters from very different backgrounds, and the attraction that Alex and Brittany feel feel for each other is problematic for both of them. It's also overwhelming and undeniable. Stories of star-crossed lovers have been around for hundreds of years, but Simone Elkeles has imbued Perfect Chemistry with the kind of pressures that contemporary teens face in their day-to-day lives, and the result is a Romeo and Juliet story that's firmly rooted in reality. So beneath the surface good girl / bad boy stereotypes, All-American princess Brittany is secretly struggling with her parents' decision to send her older sister to a care home, and Alex originally joined a gang to protect his family, but wishes deep down that he could go to college someday.
The dual-narrative technique seems to be a popular choice for YA authors these days, and Perfect Chemistry absolutely works it. Together, Brittany and Alex's two voices form a seamless narrative that is complete, compelling and sublime. In one of my favourite moments, Alex asks Brittany, who is narrating, a particularly intimate question - and we switch to his point of view to hear her answer. It's the kind of moment that makes you realise as a reader how connected you feel to both of the characters, and how much you've invested emotionally in both sides of their story. Brittany and Alex are complex and believeable characters, each with that special brand of flawed multi-layeredness that makes them truly live for the reader. Separately, they're fascinating - but put them together and they become a magentic force that makes it impossible to put this novel down.
Perfect Chemistry is a genuinely moving love story. It's also a novel that reminds us to look beyond appearances and surface assumptions. It's fiery, powerful and ultimately beautiful. Fans of YA romance should most definitely consider this one a must-read.
Out: April 1st 2010, UK / December 23rd 2008, US
Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for providing a review copy.