Friday, October 21, 2011

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2087-0

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Source: Borrowed

Summary: Luis Fuentes has always been sheltered from the gang violence that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. But that didn’t stop him from taking risks — whether he’s scaling a mountain in the Rockies or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis can’t stop looking for the next thrill. Nikki Cruz lives her life by three rules — boys lie to get their way, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you,” and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Her parents may be from Mexico, but as a doctor’s daughter, she has more in common with her north-side neighbors than the Latino Blood at her school. Then she meets Luis at Alex’s wedding, and suddenly, she’s tempted to break all her rules. Getting Nikki to take a chance on a south sider is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by Chuy Soto, the new head of the Latino Blood. When Chuy reveals a disturbing secret about Luis’s family, the youngest Fuentes finds himself questioning everything he’s ever believed to be true. Will his feelings for Nikki be enough to stop Luis from entering a dark and violent world and permanently living on the edge? 

Why I read this book: see my discussion on my determination to finish a series until the end.
Chain Reaction tells the story of the youngest Fuentes brother, Luis. Luis is the smartest of the Fuentes brothers and aspires to be an astronaut. The female lead in this novel is Nikki Cruz, a Mexican-American girl that identifies more with the middle-class white collar America than her Mexican heritage, which is basically unknown to her. She was emotionally damaged by her last relationship (with Luis's old best friend Marco) and claims to have no desire to become involved with a "player" like Luis Fuentes. Of course, that changes because Luis is hot, they have chemistry, blah blah blah, and they end up married just like the previous two Fuentes couples. I suppose I should have said spoiler alert, but seriously, you all knew where this book was going.
The book opens two years before the couples' story took place. The source of Nikki's emotional dysfunction is revealed: she found out she was pregnant, her boyfriend dumped her to be in the Latino Blood, and she lost the baby in a bad miscarriage. Around this time she met Luis at his brother's wedding and immediately decided she didn't like him. I liked that this book introduced another time period (the epilogues don't count to me) into the story. It was a good wawy to show the reasoning behind Nikki's characterization rather than just have her narrate it. Unfortunately, Nikki's characterization does not hold up throughout the course of the novel.
Two years later, Luis moves back to Fairfield and ends up in Mrs. Peterson's chemistry class with Nikki. They build sexual tension, hook up, and end up in a lasting committed relationship. The book follows a similar relationship formula to the last two books, in which hatred breeds a high school relationship that leads to marriage and children.
Elkeles once again created a quick, entertaining teen romance, but I wasn't thrilled with the characterization of both Nikki and Luis. Nikki was supposed to be the cold hard bitch whose past pain was at the source of her protective bitterness. She didn't really hold up to this though; it seemed like she said it a lot and then changed almost as soon as Luis was in the picture. The change in her personality and relationships just didn't seem justified. For someone who spoke of herself as being so guarded, I didn't feel like she would just trust Luis on a whim.
Luis was the smartest (and probably most sheltered) Fuentes. When faced with a family secret that causes him an identity crisis, Luis turns to the Latino Blood. I thought there should have been more emotional turmoil as a result of this secret. The story shows a hint of the kind of upset the secret should cause, but doesn't seem to follow through.
A decent conclusion to a decent series. Elkeles adeptly created a distinct story and personality for the youngest Fuentes that fit in well with the related books. Her inclusion of the other two couples was a welcome addition to the story. The relationships between the members of the Fuentes family is definitely the strongest part of this series.

Rating: 3 - fair. kept me reading quickly.

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