Simone Elkeles
(Simon & Schuster)

In Fairfield High School, you either come from the Southside or the Northside of the city. And they don’t mix, usually. But they are about to collide, big time.

Brittany Ellis is the school’s princess: blonde hair, designer clothes, pom-pom girl, football captain boyfriend. She has it all. Or has she? Behind the perfect façade hides a lot of heartache and a family situation that only a select few are aware of.
Alex Fuentes is the bad boy of the school, gang member and all-round bully. He is involved in criminal activities on a daily basis and, according to school gossip, does drugs. But does he really? Or is he, like Brittany, happy to hide under this persona in order to protect the real him?
When they are forced to team up as project and lab partners in chemistry, at first it seems the end of the world to Brittany and the perfect opportunity to get his own back for Alex. But it soon becomes obvious that the new “friendship” is changing them beyond their wildest dreams … or nightmares!

This is good old-fashioned star-crossed lovers romance fiction. The bad boys are in town for this one, so think along the lines of West Side Story or Grease! In fact Grease is mentioned in the story, when Isa tries to describe to Alex how she is him and Brittany:

“You’re like Danny Zuko in Grease. You smoke, you’re in a gang, and you’ve dated the hottest bad girls around. Brittany is like Sandy… a Sandy who’ll never show up to school in a black leather jacket with a ciggie hangin’ from her mouth.”

The story is good, and although I found there were a few lulls, most of the time it was quite exciting, especially as the blossoming romance between Alex and Brittany was hotting up. Elkeles definitely got it right with building up the crescendo there. There is a lot to ponder on regarding gang culture and social divide in the United States. Fairfield is apparently based on the author’s own suburb of Chicago where to very different social groups live alongside each other but only really mix in school.

I thought Alex was a great character, and it was inevitable that a little bit of swooning would be involved. Brittany was ok, but I did not feel huge waves of sympathy towards her. My two favourite characters were Sierra and Doug who I thought were hilarious as a couple.

There are a few things I didn’t like. I think Carmen’s character was far too caricatural, and I found that often the characters were a bit “too much”; Brittany’s mum was another example. Also I didn’t like the epilogue … the whole thing about them having found a medication to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s was really naff. I think the book could really have done without that. Apart from that, I thought it was a really good teen book, which is deservedly extremely popular with its targeted audience. I don’t share the near-obsession for it that so many readers seem to have but it was very enjoyable nonetheless!