Author: Simon Elkeles
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Published Date: January 2008
Price: Amazon ($9.99)
A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.
When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.
This book was literally burning in my hands with the sparks that flew out of the page. The reincarnation of Romeo and Juliet combined with the modern West Side Story has the bittersweet romance, the theme of the constriction of society’s watchful eyes, and the alternating point of views between Alex and Brittany that make the book stand out. The depth of the characters explored creates a connection with the readers, as they feel the character's pain in trying to pursue love.
Elkeles created Alex into a real person, someone who’s relatable and human. Too many times has the hero been flawless and perfect. But Alex’s pain and sorrow at being the head of the family, while resenting the fact, creates depth into the character, wanting to run away from the duty of family, in contrast to a flat character, who hates being the patriarch. The flirtatious and bad boy façade he creates starts to dissolve during the plotline, shown through his interactions with Brittany. The character development was just amazing, slowly but significantly. Elkeles really did an outstanding job in depicting Alex’s two characters, the sensitive and conflicted boy to the harsh and strong man. Also, a minor character that provided depth and hoped I could see more of is Alex’s mom. She obviously doesn’t want her son to suffer, but wants to also protect her family as a whole, working for the common good, even ignoring her suffering of her husband’s death.
Brittany is the cheerleader, popular girl in school trying to live perfectly. However, her family’s distant relations and her disabled sister is the other life that she has, the life where she has to live through her family’s silent dinner, her mother’s nagging, and the impending decision to send her sister to a “nursing” home. Brittany’s pressure to be perfect, trying to please her parents whereas Shelley cannot, is tangible as you feel empathetic towards her as she starts to break society’s standards. You also didn’t feel exasperated by her whining or her stubbornness to break out of her perfecrt façade. As a side note, I didn’t really like the dialogue between Brittany and her family. I felt as if the writing didn’t really flow and their talking seemed way too cliché. I wanted to see more emotions within the word choice.
The romance was also more on the realistic side. At first, it may seem like love at first sight, like Romeo and Juliet, but their love really grows when Alex and Brittany learn about each other’s conflicts and sensitive side. I really loved the gradual progession of love, with the chemistrying energizing it and making you root for their success.
The cover is simple, but I love the contrast and the models posing for it, as they accurately depict Brittany and Alex for me.
You think you might know Romeo and Juliet’s plot by heart, but Elkele’s unique twist with the character’s realistic aspects, with their flaws and want to break out of community’s standards, create a friendship between the reader and the characters. Elkele’s brilliant writing helps convey the romance and sorrow shared between them. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel, Rules of Attraction, to come out in April!