Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry novels are pure bookcrack to me: fast-paced, tension-filled and utterly entertaining. I cannot begin to tell you how much I have been dying to get my hands on her latest book, Chain Reaction, which follows the youngest Fuentes brother, Luis. Especially since I was able to meet the hilarious Ms. Elkeles at the RT Book Fair last April. She mentioned then that she had set up Luis as a good boy who falls for a 'bad' girl - and I have been anxiously awaiting the story ever since.
As the youngest of three brothers Luis Fuentes knows what he wants in life: to someday work for NASA as an aerospace engineer. Which means he's got to work hard at school and stay far, far away from any kind of trouble like his two brothers got into. Luis is all set to see his dream come true when his mother decides to move back to Fairfield, Illinois which means Luis is now surrounded by memories of his past - and the Latino Blood gang. Also there to distract Luis is the prickly Nikki Cruz who, despite her Mexican heritage, wants absolutely nothing to do any guy from the south side of Fairfield - especially Luis.
Oh Luis! How I was hoping to fall for your story! Instead, I came away from Chain Reaction feeling as if the book had only been half-way written. Like I had ended up with the cliff notes version. It's almost as if in the midst of all the family secrets revealed, dangerous gang fights, and tying up of loose ends that Ms. Elkeles forgot to finish developing Nikki and Luis to their fullest potential. The story simply felt too stilted and predictable to be satisfying. Which doesn't make sense at all because Simone Elkeles proved with Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction that she is genius at taking a formulaic story (bad boy meets good girl, sparks fly) and making it special. Neither of her two previous novels could ever be classified as campy or contrived, but that's the vibe I got from Chain Reaction.
For example (but without going into spoilery details) I have NO idea how Luis could ever think he needed to 'stick close' to the LB gang in order to 'protect' his family. Really? Doesn't he already have two prime examples in the form of his brothers Alex and Carlos on Why It's Always Smarter To Stay Away From Gangs? He's supposedly the smart Fuentes brother but all I saw was one stupid choice after another. And aside from one or two honest confessions, it seemed like the boy spouted lies continually - especially to Nikki, which frustrated me to no end. Numerous times she tries to explain to him that lies are a definite deal-breaker yet Luis continues to keep the truth from her. And in the end, it doesn't really matter to her! I suppose lust (since I never saw them develop any sort of real relationship) can make up for a lot of things. That's just one of my frustrations with Nikki and Luis as a couple.
Sadness. I wanted to love this book so much more than I did. I guess I'll just have to go and comfort myself with a much needed rereading of Perfect Chemistry.
series reading order:
~ Perfect Chemistry - my review
~ Rules of Attraction - my review
~ Chain Reaction
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Books Complete Me review
Confessions of a Bookaholic review
The Irish Banana Review
book source: review copy from the publicist