Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 368
Advertised Age Level: Young Adult
Age and Grade of Main Character(s): 17 yrs./High School seniors
Language: no overt profanity, implied profanity and strong language in Spanish
Sex: not explicit but a key plot point. Hero makes bet with friend to sleep with Heroine. Heroine is pressured by one boyfriend to have sex and later loses her virginity to the Hero. Other characters engage in sexual activity off-screen.
Drug/Alcohol Use: teens consume beer, smoke pot, talk about more extreme drug use, Hero is pressured to engage in drug dealing, Heroine gets drunk and throws up.
Violence: not graphic but a key plot point. Hero is shot. Hero is beaten up. Hero’s father had been murdered. Hero gets arrested for carrying a concealed gun.
Social Issues: gangs and gang violence, family dysfunction, socio-economic class warfare, popularity, first love, first sex, handicapped family member, drug dealing
Suggested Movie Grade: PG-13
Premise: Brittany Ellis is a rich girl who seems to have the perfect life. Alex Fuentes is a poor gang member who has a bad reputation. When the two are paired to be chemistry partners in their senior year, both are disgusted with the situation. Brittany despairs that her parents will hold her responsible for the inevitable bad grade having a slacker like Alex for a partner will mean. Alex makes a bet with his friends that he can sleep with Brittany by Thanksgiving and resolves to drive her crazy.
As the two get to know each other, they realize that there is a lot more going on behind the facades they’ve both constructed to keep people from hurting them. Before long, their feelings have developed into love, but both face the disapproval of their families and friends if they pursue any form of a relationship. As the leader of Alex’s gang starts to pressure him to become involved in the gang’s illegal activities, Alex knows that any normal future with Brittany is impossible. She doesn’t understand why he can’t just quit the gang and wants him to prove his love for her by doing so. Meanwhile, Brittany’s parents have finally made good on their plan to send her disabled older sister to a group facility.
Very much a modern day Romeo and Juliet story, Perfect Chemistry explores what it means to love the wrong person.
Comments: While Alex is a gang member and this is a key aspect of the story, the gang lifestyle is not explicitly detailed. The main characters eventually consummate their relationship but it is not graphically described. The violence is kept to a minimum but is strongly implied.
Age Appropriateness: ages 13 and up