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Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

rules of attraction simone elkeles Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Ive never lived in a place where you couldnt easily throw a stone at your next-door neighbours window, marvels Carlos Fuentes as he pulls into the Westford familys driveway. Carlos has returned to America after fleeing to Mexico to escape the fall-out caused by his older brother Alexs decision to leave the Latino Bloods. But like Alex, the tough-talking Carlos has a tendency to attract trouble, and after being threatened with expulsion from school mere days after his enrolment, hes moved out of his brothers student flat and into the Westford family home.

But Carlos is wary of his new guardians: having been the head of his household back in Mexico, hes not one for guidelines and limitations. Nor is he one for affection, lashing out cruelly at anyone who tries to work their way through his tough-as-nails emotional armour. By accepting the help of the Westfords, who are white and firmly middle class, Carlos feels as though hes capitulating in terms of his social and cultural identity, and in doing so betraying his mother, whos worked so hard to raise her sons after her husband was killed in a gang fight years ago.

I dont feel the need to dis my heritage and change my name to Carl to fit in, he says, after disdaining his friend Ramiro for going by the name of Ram. One look at me and you know Im Latino, so why pretend to be somethin else.

But in Carloss mind, the Latino identity is one thats inextricably intertwined with deficit thinking: its about being tough and scraping by. He associates pathways such as the one that his university student brother Alex is on as being white and therefore a disavowal of Latino culture. Ive always accused Alex of wanting to be white because he refuses to be called by his given name, Alejandro, he says at one point. And Alex has dropped even further in Carloss estimation by virtue of the fact that hes dating a white girl from a privileged background and by distancing himself from the tough guy behaviours that Carlos sees as crucial to his masculine identity as well as his Latino one.

But under the Westfields roof, Carlos is able to drop his posturing identity and spend more time on being a'person rather than a'persona. No matter how abominably Carlos behaves (and lets just say that an afternoon or two in the time out corner wouldnt go astray), theyre determined to see the best in him. And of course theres Kiara, tooshy, smart Kiara whos into hiking and fixing cars, and whos definitely not Carloss type.

I like my women sexy and stupid, he says, right off the bat. To which Kiara responds, Youre not my type either. I like my guys smart and funny.

But given that this books called'Rules of Attraction, youd be correct in thinking that we have a case of opposites attract on our hands. Living under the same roof certainly helps things along, and so too does Kiaras apparent saviour ideology (He needs to know Im not going to suddenly give up on him or give up on us, she says at one point), and Carloss stubborn possessiveness, which sees him fighting for anything that might potentially be taken from him. Though Carlos says that his goal'most times is to be numb, its Kiara who sees right through this, noting:'When Carlos started here a week ago, he didnt care whether he attended classes or got kicked out. now that getting expelled is a real possibility, hes fighting to stay here.

Rules of Attraction follows a similar plot arc to its predecessor'Perfect Chemistry, which traces the budding relationship between Carloss brother Alex and Alexs love interest Brittany. Though both books contain a sort of saviour narrative in which the Latino bad boy is rescued by the love of a good middle class white girl, the themes not as glaring in this book, which to be honest is somewhat of a relief. Carloss growth occurs not simply because'of'Kiara, but rather because he is given the space and security in which to explore his own identity and aspirations.

However, where'Perfect Chemistry contains, well, chemistry between the two main characters,'Rules of Attraction seems lacking in this regard. The fact that Carlos and Kiara are living together makes the relationship feel more like one of convenient proximity than actual passion, and I never quite believed the romance between the two. Perhaps its because of the many awkward subplots designed to get them togetherthe pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend to annoy the school beauty, and Kiaras forcing Carlos to attend the school dance, for example. These elements seemed extraneous given that Kiara and Carlos are already living together, a situation that surely provides plenty of tension in and of itself. There are other odd plot threads that dont quite seem to work, such as the planting of drugs in Carloss locker, and Carloss being recruited as part of a turf warthese just seem like complications for complications sake. The novel also suffers from the same rushed ending as its predecessor, but in this instance feels less convincing given that the events leading to the climax seem to come out of nowhere.

Perhaps the most problematic element of the book, however, is the epilogue, which is essentially a repeat of that in'Perfect Chemistry, only with the characters names changed. Given that this is a teen romance, I doubt Im spoiling much by saying that things end with a happily ever after, but its the'ever after that bothers me here. Is it really realistic that'both Fuentes brothers end up marrying their high school sweethearts? Im a romantic sap at heart (believe it or not), but honestly, the idea of teenage love inevitably ending in marriage and kids frustrates me, and by normalising this sort of stuff, were creating some highly problematic expectations for todays teens.

'Rating: star Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkelesstar Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkelesstar Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkelesblankstar Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkelesblankstar Book Review: Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles (good)

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  1. Its a tricky subject, isnt it? Romantic fiction has always leaned towards ever after, but for most people, with teen romances, thats not very likely. So striking that balance is tricky. I dont envy the YA writers the trick of pulling off satisfying without feeling contrived. Im not sure that expectations are really an issue though. Id happily trade some happy ever after issues for many more kids reading! ;)

    • Stephanie /

      Im okay with an implied ever after, which is there at the end of this one, but these sort of married-with-kids epilogues seem a bit much for YA. Im not sure I wanted to think about marriage and kids as a teen!

  2. I dont know. Maybe in these times of high divorce rates and increasing single parent families, the happily married-with-kids ending is exposure to a positive possibility teens rarely witness in real life? I know of my teen daughters 6 closest friends, she is the only one whose parents are still married and my husband and I have been together since I was 17 and he was 20 (21 years together/16 years married)

    • Stephanie /

      I guess I just feel that its raising unrealistic expectations for teenage relationshipsvery few people I know married the very first person they dated. I think its an extension of the fireworks and roses kind of romance were seeing more and more of, and I do think its going to result in a bunch of teens who are disillusioned by the disconnect between fiction and reality. Im the first to admit to being a misty-eyed sap when it comes to love and romance, but I do worry about creating these expectations. If the book had ended with the *implied* happily ever after than the no-ambiguity-here-kids epilogue, then I wouldve been totally on board.

      But I do see your point about kids wanting to read about safe and positive relationships, and think that there is a dearth of that in fiction. Isnt it curious that there are so few books where the main characters are already in a long-term, committed relationship? Theyre either just meeting, or breaking up!

  3. Simone Elkeles /

    Thank you for the review-I appreciate your entire review and even the criticisms. I love happily-ever-after stories about teenage love, because I also married a boy I met at 17 and we got married nine years later and we have two beautiful children (we are now both 42). I know author Stephanie Perkins also married her high school sweetheart. Maybe thats why we write these teen love stories with happily-ever-after endings. Its real to us, even though obviously its not the norm. Im also a hopeless romantic at heart and definitely want to leave the unhappy endings or the vague endings to other authors. I just cant do it. :)

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Simone, and what a delight to have you here! Given the feedback on this review, it looks as though happily-ever-afters from a teens perspective may not be as unusual as I thought. Or perhaps, even if theyre not necessarily normative, they certainly resonate with readers.

      Thanks again for the Perfect Chemistry serieseven if certain elements havent quite worked for me, Ive thoroughly enjoyed the ride so far!

  4. Simone Elkeles /

    Stephanie, the Perfect Chemistry series has a special place in my heart, which is probably why theyre the only books where I put the sappy epilogues. Its like my personal cherry on top of the cake, I just cant help myself!

  5. I married my high school sweetheart, but I have to admit I was kind of irritated at the way the Fuentes brothers all ended up with theirs. It was too unrealistic for me one brother, OK, but all three?! I did enjoy the series, though Perfect Chemistry was definitely my fave. I loved the chemistry (natch) and adored Alex. I thought Kiara was great in Rules of Attraction but Carlos drove me nuts at times.

    • Stephanie /

      I would have been completely fine with them without the epilogues, to be honest. I like a bit of ambiguity in my endings. :)

      Ive only read the first two, but Alex is definitely my favourite so far, even if I did hate the whole sex-as-a-bet thing. Carlos could definitely do with a smack on the bum!