When his brother, Alex's gang involvement placed the family in danger, Carlos Fuentes moved to Mexico with them, hoping they would be safe there. But eventually Alex decided to return to the States to cut ties with the gang once and for all. Now living in Colorado with his girlfriend, Alex wants Carlos to come stay there for his senior year of high school. Feeling betrayed by his brother for abandoning the rest of the family, Carlos isn't very happy about it and arrives with a chip on his shoulder. When he meets Kiara Westford, the peer guide at his new school, Carlos thinks she's way too much of a perfect, goody-two-shoes for him, but gradually she begins to earn his respect. Little does everyone know, though, that he, too, got caught up in gang life in Mexico, and that life has followed him to his new home. When the police find drugs in his locker that were planted there by local thugs with ties to his old gang, Carlos is arrested, but Alex's college psychology professor steps in to help. However, the only way to avoid a jail sentence is to live with the man, who happens to be Kiara's father, and his family. Now under the same roof with the girl who both annoys and intrigues him, he discovers hidden depths in her that he didn't expect. Even though she's nothing like the girls he's been attracted to in the past, he soon finds himself falling for her in a way he never has for any other girl before. But when the gang life catches up to him again, it may place her and this new family that has finally given him a sense of belonging in serious danger.
Rules of Attraction is the second book of Simone Elekeles's Perfect Chemistry series, which follows the three Fuentes brothers. After reading and loving the first book, Perfect Chemistry, I've been eagerly looking forward to continuing the series, and I wasn't disappointed in the least with this second installment, which is middle brother, Carlos's story. Toward the end of Perfect Chemistry, the family had moved to Mexico to escape the gang that presented a danger to oldest brother, Alex, but when Alex left to go back to Chicago and end things with the gang once and for all, Carlos became the man of house. Since Alex decided to stay in the states to be with his girlfriend, Brittany, and attend college, Carlos has been holding down the fort as best he can, which unfortunately meant joining a gang himself. Now his mother and Alex insist that he return to the states to live with Alex for his senior year of high school, but Carlos arrives with a chip on his shoulder. He tries to make the best of it, but eventually the gang life catches up with him, when a fellow student plants drugs in his locker as a test. After he's caught, Alex makes arrangements with his college psychology professor, who agrees to become Carlos's guardian. Now he's living under the same roof with Kiara, a girl from school who acted as his peer guide when he first arrived and who annoys him, but in an intriguing way. Soon he realizes that even though Kiara is nothing like the girls he usually hangs out with, he's experiencing feelings for her that he's never felt for anyone before. But if he continues down the same path, the gang could get them both killed.
Carlos resented having to leave Chicago in the first place and felt betrayed when Alex stayed in the states and left him and his mom and younger brother in Mexico. He did his best to help keep the family afloat financially, but the slave wages he earned at the sugar mill didn't really cut it. Then he got fired and had few options left besides joining a gang. Now his mom and Alex are forcing him to move to Colorado to live with Alex, something that he doesn't really want to do, so he can be pretty antagonistic at times. He's also down on the idea of love, because his girlfriend from Chicago dumped him, not wanting a long-distance relationship. Believing that Brittany is to blame for Alex's actions, he doesn't think much of her or his brother's relationship with her either. Then he starts high school, where he meets Kiara. At first, he thinks she's just weird and doesn't really want her company, but she starts to earn his respect when she plays a prank on him to get back at him for his stinky attitude. Then the drugs appear in his locker and he ends up living with her family. Having grown up in poverty, he views them as rich folks, even though they appear to just be upper middle class, and he doesn't want to be there. But gradually the love and trust of a good family starts to melt the icy sheath around his heart. As he gets to really know her, Kiara becomes a whole lot more attractive than he thought she was at the start, and having a "little brother" and parental figures turns out to be less of a drag than he thought it would be. In fact, he comes to love them enough that he would sacrifice his life to keep them safe from the gang. Carlos is a bad boy with an arrogant ego, but underneath the tough guy veneer, he exhibits a deep vulnerability. Many people he's cared about - his father, brother, and girlfriend - have all left him, and he fears that if he allows himself to care about someone else, they'll betray him, too. Although Carlos may have done some bad things in the past, he has a genuinely good heart, and I love how he gradually comes around. He's very protective of those he loves and more than redeems himself by the end.
Kiara is the consummate good girl and a little on the geeky side, not in the science-y sense, but she is an exemplary student who is a bit socially awkward, having just one best friend. She loves her family and is a great daughter and big sister to her six-year-old brother. She has a nice balance between sometimes being softer and more girly, while often being a little tomboyish. Two of her biggest interests are sports and restoring her classic Monte Carlo. Because she's such a good student, Kiara is asked to be a peer guide for a new kid at school, but from the minute she meets Carlos, he rubs her the wrong way. He's very attractive and he knows it, and he has a bad attitude to boot. She also immediately pegs him as a player who only wants a girl who'll take off her clothes for him. However, when he reacts to her prank by showing her respect rather than getting upset, she becomes more intrigued by him. Once he's living with her family, Carlos still tends to push people away, but Kiara also sees glimmers of a softer side underneath the tough guy persona that makes her start liking him more and more until she's madly in love with him. Kiara is a very relatable girl who's also quite admirable. She may not have a ton of friends, but she's confident enough in her own skin that she doesn't care a great deal what others think of how she dresses or what she likes to do. I think it's because of that confidence and her strong family life that she's able to be a solid rock for Carlos to lean on even though he acts like he doesn't need anyone. She's intelligent enough to know when she's in over her head, too, and trusts her parents, asking for their help. She's also mature enough to make good relationship decisions.
Rules of Attraction skirts the line between Young Adult and New Adult Romance, but since Carlos and Kiara are still in high school, the YA designation seems to be the more pertinent one, so this is where I'll give my evaluation on potentially objectionable content. Teens are seen at parties getting drunk and high while consuming both alcohol and drugs, and Carlos gets in trouble for having drugs his locker although they were planted there and aren't his. Carlos was in a gang in Mexico and that association follows him to Colorado, leading to depictions of gang violence. He's brutally beaten up in one scene, and there is a shoot-out in another. There's a fair bit of language, including several uses of the f-word and occasional crude sexual references. Carlos engages in a heavy make-out session with a girl at a party that almost leads to sex. Carlos and Kiara share some passionate kisses that create strong sexual tension. They discuss sexual matters fairly openly with each other, as well as with her father and her best friend who happens to be gay. In one scene they remove their shirts and engage in heavy petting, and eventually they do make love at a later time. The prelude to that is shown in some moderate but tasteful detail. However, the door is closed on the actual act. I have to give them credit, though, for having a mature discussion about it and for using protection, which is more than I often see in adult romances. However, given the volume of mature content, I'd probably only recommend the book for older teens of about sixteen and up, who wouldn't be bothered by anything I mentioned.
Rules of Attraction ended up being another awesome read in this series. Carlos can be a little abrasive at times, but he'd no sooner piss me off than he'd show some small bit of character development that would help me to see that it was all an act to keep people at arm's length because he's afraid to care. Kiara is the relatable girl-next-door who's smart, savvy, has a sense of humor, and can express her feelings without being immature or bitchy. I absolutely loved the family aspects of the story. Even though Carlos hasn't had a perfect family life, his culture leads him to love and respect his family even when they're driving him crazy. Kiara has a model family who always show care and concern for one another. I love her parents who don't hover, but allow her to make her own choices and learn from her mistakes while offering healthy guidance. They also take Carlos in without question and show him respect, making him totally welcome in their family activities, while Kiara's dad is a strong believer in second chances. He lays down ground rules in an attempt to set Carlos on the right path, while showing how much he cares in every word and deed, right up to and including risking everything to save Carlos from the gang life. Carlos and Kiara are the perfect example of opposites attracting and I think they made a great couple. I loved the far in the future epilogue for them, which was the perfect ending for the story. I can't say enough good things about Rules of Attraction and this series in general. Two keepers in a row has earned Simone Elkeles a spot on my favorite authors list. I very much look forward to reading the last book, Chain Reaction, to see Luis, the final Fuentes brother, get his HEA ending, as well as checking out her other work.
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