Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Reviews - Caleb + Kate & Perfect Chemistry

What is it about the Romeo & Juliet premise that's just so darned appealing to us humans? Is it the forbidden love? The youth? The rapture of first love? The declarations? The defying of the parents?

Maybe I should say "to us female humans" because I know JRM declares R+J to be Shakespeare's weakest work. He much prefers Hamlet.

LTM: Whatever. Make up your mind already!

I actually saw West Side Story before I knew about R+J. I was about six years old, and we were on some beach vacation with friends of my parents. I remember my mom's girlfriend was so excited WSS was going to be on TV. She told me all about it and we were going to watch it together.

I must've been that kind of little kid, because I also remember my aunt being so excited about the two of us watching the Nutcracker on TV together one Christmas when I was around the same age. It was the old Balanchine version with Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, and I think I liked it...

Anyway, I immediately loved WSS--the music, the dancing, the love story... (!) I don't know if I cried at the end then like I do now, but I do remember years later reading R+J and thinking, "Hey! This is just like West Side Story!"

So my reviews of Caleb + Kate by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma and Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles might be biased. They're both updated WSS stories, and both do a great job of keeping you going to find out if these kids are going to end up together or if one (or both) will end up ... dead--!

(Maybe THAT'S it...)

I'm pretty safe reviewing these guys together because seriously. They're almost the same book just written for different audiences. Both feature a misunderstood, Aryan female lead who falls for the dark, handsome bad boy.

But there are some differences. The covers might give you a clue:

Reow! Yep, C+K is written for the inspirational market, while PC is not.

I picked up C+K in Sam's one day because I'd been wanting to read more in the inspirational genre. It was part of my research in handling certain scenes, etc. I saw "updated R+J" and thought OK expecting it to be a very tame reimagining. And to a certain extent it was.

I did not expect characters to smoke, discuss drug use, drink, have tattoos, have chemistry... (!) I give it up. It's a well-written, believeable story that kept me engaged for an afternoon. It's very (very) romantic. The setting is the Pacific northwest, a private academy, wealthy kids. Caleb is the new "scholarship" student from Hawaii who's all smoldering.

I won't give too much away, but Coloma develops the romance very well. I felt like the characters were believeable and her resolution was solid and worked. There were a few times I felt like her dialogue was off. (LTM: "Do kids really say that?") But otherwise, good book--def. worth a read!  (B+)

As for PC, I expected it to be a lot racier than it actually was. There's plenty of language, mild violence, alcohol and drug use (moms), so it's Rated R. But there's more longing and angst than I expected--not a lot of sex scenes like I anticipated. It's more WSS in that the racism element is very pronounced. But there's still the family disapproval--Alex is a gang member, after all.

The conflicts felt real, and Elkeles didn't shy away from the character she'd created in Alex. He's forced to deal with being in a gang, so there's definite suspense there. Again, there were just a few times I didn't believe the characters would say/do some of the things they did, but those moments were easily overlooked. PC is another hard to put down page-turner. (B+)

On a technical note, I liked how both books went back and forth between the female lead and the male lead in telling the story. When the two (finally) get together, it heightens the impact because you're not having to wonder (through a sole, first-person narrator) how the other person's feeling.

Typically these books are written from the female perspective, so the device allowed the author to have their boys act like boys. (I.e., not spill their guts.)

In my experience, unless they're gay, guys don't deliver monologues about their deep, romantic longings. They just don't. The alternating-narrators trick overcame that problem nicely.

So yay! Now get out there and have a great, reading weekend!


Hart Johnson said...

Nice reviews! Funny, because this is a genre I don't tend to care for unless it's sung to me (yes, I can love West Side Story or even Grease, this way *cough*)--it is part of why I couldn't forgive Twilight's bad writing--it's also a STORY I am just not that into (because lets face it--it is ALSO this story)

But you did a great job pointing out the things that worked and didn't, and contrasting them.

RE: dialog--I think what teens say is REALLY regional. I've had people say 'teens don't say that' to me when MY TEEN says that, so it's possible that may be part of the deal. I have a couple YA friends who've had similar experiences.

And finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! I hope you're having a great day!

Portia said...

I've never heard of Caleb and Kate before, but I've heard great things about Perfect Chemistry! Isn't it funny how some writers can take a very well traveled story and give it something fresh and interesting?

Can't wait to add these to my "to read" list :-)

LTM said...

woo!!! birthday girls unite! Thanks, T.~ :o)
Ok, ok... Where's the love, Tart? Is there no sweet spot? j/k You're like JRM w/your ole LOTR-lovin self. It's all creatures w/you guys. (You should've heard the OMG-*groan* he made when he saw me reading Twilight.)
But I'm a romance junkie! I can't help it. I love love love the R+J story. I might even give it a whirl myself at some point and you and JRM are NOT allowed to make fun of me. (Okay, you can, but only combined with lots of comments about how brilliant I am... ;o)
Thanks for the review kudos. I wrote this fast and haven't really reread it... scary.
As for regional dialogue, I agree 100%. In this case, I meant it was too formal for teens. Like kids don't talk like college professors, cha know?
Back to work w/me~

LTM said...

Portia! I found Caleb + Kate b/c I decided to expand my range and see what was happening in the "inspirational" section. (That's a funny label, IMO.)
I was sure it was going to be completely unrealistic and Leave it to Beaver, but I was wrong! And that made me say "Hm." ;p
I would recommend it! And I didn't think I'd say that, but it was well done. Even romantically "inspirational" at times... ;o) good stuff~

JRichard said...

In fairness, I didn't say (or didn't MEAN to say) that R+J is Shakespeare's weakest overall; he's written a lot much stinker than that. Indeed, as a cohesive work it is an evenly-written, well-done work of fiction that is interesting because it turned the comedy of manners on its head by converting it into a sort of pathetic tragedy in the last third of the fifth act.

But, I acknowledge, thematically (in my opinion) R+J doesn't hold a candle to the cultural forces at work behind Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, The Tempest, and, yes, MacBeth. Those were (and remain) sort off of the chart when it comes to English playwriting. R+J is sort of like the Help! album: Good, good stuff, but light years behind what was to come.

LTM said...

OK, smartypants. But can you dance to King Lear? ;o)

Donna B. said...

When I was 10 years old, my best friend and I recorded ourselves on reel to reel tape, playing all the parts in West Side Story between the two of us. She still has it.

That was such a poignant movie in my life. I think that movie imprinted the image of a tall, dark haired, handsome man as the "type" of man for me. I still love that movie for so many reasons.

I have never heard of either of these books, but if they follow WSS, I am sure I would enjoy them.

I'm glad I found your blog via Rayna's blog and look forward to visiting again.

Ex-pat Odessa said...

Okay, so if you find yourself running out of shelf space for all these great books you've read, you can ship them on over to me. Address package as follows:

Odessa Renee Toma
Str. Spitalului, Nr.11, Bl.1, Sc.D, Ap.9, Etj. 2
Loc. Tulcea, Jud. Tulcea
COOD 820180

*did I mention you're my favorite cousin?!?* Grin <3

LTM said...

@Donna--that's awesome! I have a recording of two friends of mine and me sining Xanadu... sigh. ;p I think there's something to your comment about Mr. Tall, dark & handsome. I got a little soft spot for him myself. Thanks for visiting! It's great to "meet" you!

@Odie: I'm actually reading a book where the MC is Romanian royalty and I thought about sending it to you when I'm done. But I might make my book club read it. Regardless, I will put together a care package for you~ xoxo :o)

Ex-pat Odessa said...


BTW, don't believe everything you read about Romanians or their history! Everyone thinks Vlad Tepes was some blood thirsty war lord, it's actually kinda the opposite.