Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Passing Notes: Perfect Chemistry.

Dear Willow,

I have a bone to pick with you. We need to clear the air. We need to address the elephant in the room. I need to get this off my chest so that we, as partners and twins and reading soul sisters, can move on to bigger and better things.

Yes, I'm talking about Perfect Chemistry.

Willow, my soul sister, my fellow nerd fighter, you betrayed me. I trusted you. When I read your once upon a time review on Goodreads, I said, "here's a book I need to dive into." And it sat on my to-read list, in an honored spot, as I waited for the day I could get my hands on it. I wanted to get knee deep into this world Elkeles created. I wanted to know Alex and Brittany & I wanted to witness the love they discover.

Instead, I was treated to a fabric softner romance.

You didn't tell me it would be so...pretty. It's soft as a puppy's fur. I wanted to pet it, Willow. I wanted to stroke its sweet head and coo gently to it. Where's the grit? Where's the dirt? I wanted rawness! I wanted ugly! I wanted an emeffing white lily growing in the middle of the cracked concrete in the projects, its petals slightly wilted. I got a field of daisies. A field of beautiful daisies, swaying in the breeze, little bunnies frolicking through.

There's Alex, our purple prosed gangbanger, who's so hard, yeah yeah yeah, so hard so hard, and I just can't buy this cliche ridden gang world Elkeles creates for him to exist in. It's too ....neat. Tidy. It's like she Googled "Gang life" and copied from a Wikipedia article. I confess, sister-girl, I am not exactly an expert on gangs, but I have a feeling the hardcore ones aren't so bland. It was like I went to Taco Bell, asked for the fire sauce and they gave me packets of mild. And a few packets of sugar. 

Speaking of tacos, Alex's Spanglish. Dude. Seriously? Okay, okay, I know I'm not Mexican. I know that snatching you up for a twin & previously dating a Mexican & having a Mexican aunt & living in Arizona next to the barrio does not a Latina make, but Alex's Spanish to English jumps felt gimmicky. Like they were thrown in simply to remind the reader that he is Mexican. "See! Look how authentic I am! Watch me bounce back and forth between English and Spanish for seemingly no reason whatsoever! Do you believe me yet? That I'm Mexican? Because you should, chica." It just felt stereotypical, is what I'm saying here. Look at the Mexican in a gang! Aww! Now gaze to your left and watch him smoke weed! Oh oh oh, and if you gaze this way, you'll see him speak random Spanish to white as the pure driven snow Barbie girls! 

And speaking of Barbies...Brittany. Brittany annoyed the hell out of me. "I am so perfect and I have perfect hair and perfect skin and a perfect boyfriend...BUT I'M NOT PERFECT AND NO ONE CAN ~SEE~ THAT!" Put it to a Taylor Swift song, girlfriend. We're in a recession. I don't want to listen to your woes while you sob your rich girl heart out in your Bimmer. I know. I'm being unfair. She really did come from a mess of a family and I actually did adore her devotion to her sister, but I got sick of her constant moaning and groaning and back and forths and ugh. Silly, stereotypical white girl with stereotypical Mexican boy. Stupid cliches and predictable drama. Stupid "edgy" retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Stupid fabric softner love.

But the epilogue. That was good stuff! Hilarious. A right knee-slapper. It was supposed to be a joke, right? 

I'm glad I was able to purge my soul of this. I forgive you.

Con todo mi afecto, mi hermana gemela,

Dear Pen-rye-n,

My dirty, disenchanted reading soul sister. I feel your bone picking and I'll take it. I'll take it for the hopeless romantics, for the ones who rediscovered YA in their 20s by being knocked in the head by a Mormon. And for some of them, it took awhile to climb back out of that hole filled with creepy dudes, cheesy dialogue, Mary Sues and ridiculous cliches.

You see, I read Perfect Chemistry in early 2010. Things were different then. Everyone didn't have these magic future things called e-readers. E-books were a joke. You read what the publishers and agents chose, and then put out on the shelves for you. And in early 2010, after the sparkling vampires and poetry writing wolf shifters, I saw Alex Fuentes and thought, "This dude wants to bang it out with me. He has a gun and wants to smoke some pot and throw me down and make things happen, and I am intrigued." This was as dirty as YA got without locking siblings in an attic. Reviews were scandalized! about all the unapologetic smoking and sex talk. The fact that Brittany and Alex HAVE sex! And in the first book! ON THE FLOOR! This was surprising in a book sitting on a shelf beside the clique of its day. The paranormal crowd with their black, introspective book covers, had no idea what to do with boys who cursed, were kind of bitchy and not all that dreamy.

But now, with our kindles thrown lazily around, as commonplace as a cell phone these days, we have immediate access to all sorts of things. Where fancy pants publishers once laughed gaily over the New Adult genre, this place between YA and adult, somewhere stuck firmly in college, we can now find angsty, sexy books about nineteen year-olds banging it out with both romance and grit. This was once not an easily accessible option. There were parameters. There was too much for the book shelf. Our electronic shelves can now get as dirty and crooked as we want these days, and because of that, Alex Fuentes is grunting his "mamacitas" and no one believes him anymore. It's not enough anymore, and it's fluffy and it reeks of the flashing signs of an after school special. Flashing signs alerting us to, "Here comes the moral!" and a little bit of, "Cheesy line up ahead, Mujer!"

All that being said, racking my brain, in the haze of stories and books I've read, this falls somewhere in the soft, coming of age category. This is why I won't reread it. I don't long to see Brittany again, who is just a vague blonde blob of insecurities and absentee parents in my head. Did I like her then? I can't remember her sticking out to me, but this was a time of Bellas and Luces and Noras, when young girls got the dubious honor of being insecure, clumsy shells for mysterious boys to play with. I remember Alex's mom wrangling three boys and something about tennis balls in panty hose, and then there was Alex's gangbanger friends who cursed in Spanish and threw in some Spanglish to remind gringos, "Hey, I'm different!" and to entice Latino kids with, "Hey, I'm just like you!" This combined with the dual perspectives and star-crossed lovers set up against the West Side story drama was and still is enough for some fans in the YA set, and once upon a different time, it had been enough for me. Now I've grown to expect more from my YA. And spitting some curse words and banging it out on the floor just isn't enough anymore.

Lo Siento, Alejandro.

And you too, Pen. I'm sorry, but next time check the date and remember the context. I was high on Cullen until at LEAST mid-2010. Cut me a codependent break.


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