Chain Reaction

By: Simone Elkeles

Series: Perfect Chemistry

Book Number: 3

Star Rating:

Sensuality Rating:



Spoiler Disclaimer


Nikki Cruz's parents immigrated from Mexico, but with her father now being a well-respected surgeon, she has far more in common with the north side kids at Fairfield High than those from the opposite side of the tracks. She tried dating a south-sider once and it ended in traumatic heartbreak for her. So, she's sworn off all guys until she meets Luis at a wedding. Initially his arrogant attitude puts her off, but when he becomes a student at Fairfield, she finds him increasingly hard to resist. However, just as she's beginning to open her heart up to him, she discovers that he's become involved with the Latino Blood gang. After dealing with one boyfriend who chose gang life over her, Nikki isn't sure that she can go down that road again and pushes Luis away. But her love may be the only thing that can save him.

Luis Fuentes's family has always tried to keep him isolated from the gang life that nearly destroyed both of his older brothers and that seems to be his family's legacy. However, that doesn't stop him from enjoying living on the edge, whether it's free-solo rock climbing or his dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. Then he meets Nikki, a fiery Latina girl, at his brother's wedding, and she suddenly becomes the ultimate challenge that thrills him. She's all he wants in a girlfriend, but she's playing hard to get, and it won't be easy for him to convince her to take a chance on a boy from the south side. But just as romance is finally beginning to blossom between them, Luis finds himself pursued by Chuy Soto, the leader of the Latino Blood who twists Luis's arm, trying to get him to join. Then Chuy reveals a dark secret about Luis's family that leaves him questioning everything about himself. Will Nikki's love be enough to pull him out his emotional spiral and keep him from going down a path toward violence and destruction?


Chain Reaction is the third and possibly final book in Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry series. It's the story of the youngest Fuentes brother, Luis. After the events of Perfect Chemistry, Luis moved to Mexico with his mom in an attempt to get out of the reach of the Latino Blood gang. When this story opens, the Latino Blood appear to have disbanded when their leader went to jail. Since the worst of the danger has passed, Luis and his mom move back to the states just in time for Alex and Brittany's wedding. At the event, fifteen-year-old Luis meets Nikki, a fiery Latina girl who piques his interest, but she blows him off. Then the story fast-forwards as he spends a couple of years in Colorado, before returning to the Chicago suburb of Fairfield where the Fuentes brothers spent most of their childhoods. Their mom even rents the same house they used to live in before. Now attending Fairfield High for his senior year, Luis once again runs into Nikki who also attends school there. He tries to pursue her, but she's reluctant to get involved with him because of a previous bad relationship with another boy from the south side. Eventually his persistence pays off and they tentatively begin dating. But even though Luis had his life all planned out with dreams of becoming an astronaut, the old gang life comes calling when the leader of the Latino Blood gets out of prison and gives Luis few other options besides joining them in order to keep his family safe. This could not only ruin his burgeoning relationship with Nikki but also place his life in mortal danger.

To everyone else, Luis has been the level-headed Fuentes brother who's smart as a whip, always getting straight A's, particularly in math and science. Inside, though, he's an adrenaline junkie who loves the thrill of taking risks. The story opens with him free-solo rock climbing and nearly getting killed in the process. Combining the two parts of himself together, he dreams of one day joining NASA and going to space. When Luis meets Nikki at his brother's wedding, she deeply intrigues him, so two years later, when he realizes they'll be attending school together, he can't resist the challenge of going after what he wants. However, after being done wrong by another south side guy who chose gang life over her, Nikki is anything but easy to convince that Luis will be any different. Unfortunately, just as they finally agree to start dating, Chuy Soto, the leader of the Latino Blood gets out of prison and starts aggressively trying to recruit Luis. Given that his brother, Alex, isn't viewed favorably among the Blood because of his choice to leave the gang life, Luis suspects that Chuy has ulterior motives for wanting him in to be a Blood. At first, he hangs out with them in hopes of finding out exactly what Chuy's game is, but soon the pressure to be a full-fledged member becomes too much, especially after a major revelation that sends Luis into an emotional tailspin. By that time, Nikki has also pushed him away, so Luis simply pushes back in an attempt to keep her safe. But when he finally unravels the mystery, his love for Nikki and his family may not be enough to save his life. A part of me wishes that Luis's intelligent, level-headed nature had been brought out a little more. Instead, he often falls back on the risk-taker part of his persona. I suppose, though, that in the end, the brainy side won out as he figured out a way to do the right thing even though he knew it might cost him his life. I also like that he was the first to declare his love for Nikki. I love it when a guy is confident enough to do that.

When Nikki's part of the story opens, she's being dumped by her boyfriend right after telling him she loves him and while being concerned that she might be pregnant. She's still reeling from all of this when she meets Luis at the wedding. There she shows him her mouthy side, knees him in the groin, and then hides his clothes when she discovers him skinny dipping. It was a rather inauspicious beginning and not something she's entirely proud of, so when he shows up at her school two years later, she kind of hopes he doesn't remember her, but no such luck. Nikki may be a Latina with immigrant parents, but with her father being a respected surgeon, they live on the north side and she isn't particularly in touch with her heritage. She does have a taste for south side bad boys, but after the disastrous relationship with her ex that left her broken, she's sworn off all boys until Luis arrives. Then all bets are off. However, even after she finally agrees to date him, she's still leery of guys who profess their love, thinking it's just words they use to manipulate a girl into bed. She's also reluctant to delve into the past and bare her soul to Luis, so she ends up pushing him away. At first, it's unintentional and when Luis doesn't react the way she'd hoped and seems to be pursuing gang life instead of her, just like her ex, she's devastated. But soon she realizes that what she feels for Luis goes far beyond anything she's experienced before and knows she has to fight for their love. Nikki was a nice combination of strength and vulnerability. When she meets Luis the second time and starts to get involved with him, she has her walls up, but after all she'd been through, it's understandable. I do wish that she'd been a little more communicative with him and more willing to share her past. I think it might have helped to increase the emotional connection and romance factor, but at the same time, she more than showed her love for him in the end.

Chain Reaction is typically categorized as Young Adult. It perhaps could marginally fall into the New Adult category as well, but since both Luis and Nikki are under eighteen for the majority of the story, YA seems like the most pertinent classification. Therefore, this is where I'll discuss the potentially objectionable content of which there is quite a bit. The language can get pretty salty with a number of "f-bombs" being dropped. Luis and others are shown drinking beer in a few scenes, and in one of those scenes he gets very drunk, waking with a hangover. Although no one is shown using drugs in the story, Luis does perform a drug deal for the gang as a test. Because gang life is a big part of the story, there is some violence as well. Threats are made, guns are waved around, and there's a general sense of fear throughout these parts. In one scene, Luis is beaten pretty badly in a gang ritual, and in another scene, one character shoots another although it's in defense of someone else. A supporting character is also killed off page, with some moderate description of the crime scene. As far as sexual content, it's implied that Luis has been sexually active since the age of fifteen, and Nikki had her first experience at that age as well, although she's been celibate since her breakup. Once Luis and Nikki get together, there's some fairly high sexual tension between them and they share three different sexual encounters. The first time, it's with most of their clothes still on, the second, they get naked but ultimately don't go all the way, then the third time, they finally do make love. These scenes are described in some moderate, though tasteful, detail, and I do have to give them credit for acting responsibly. 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.

Overall, Chain Reaction was another good story in this series, although it wasn't quite as perfect for me as the first two. I only dropped a star, because it was kind of hard to put my finger on exactly why that was. Maybe it was because the plot was a little too similar to the first two books or that I felt that Nikki and Luis were a bit underdeveloped as characters. Part of it also may have been that even after Luis and Nikki finally agree to a real relationship, they don't share a lot of themselves with each other, so it wasn't really apparent why and when they fell in love. Luis lies to Nikki about his involvement with the Latino Blood, afraid of losing her if she knows, while Nikki plays her past emotional trauma close to the vest, afraid of being hurt again. I felt a connection between them, but I think their reticence might have prevented it from going even deeper. I also felt like Luis and Nikki both, on occasion, made decisions without a lot of thought going into them, so it could be a bit difficult to understand where they were coming from in those moments. Otherwise, though, I liked them together and thought they complimented each other well. I loved that Alex and Brittany (Perfect Chemistry) and Carlos and Kiara (Rules of Attraction) all played a part in the story, and I also love how the Fuentes brothers look out for each other, no matter what. The far-future epilogue was a nice little treat that proved that all these couples were made for each other and still happy many years later. It also left a little room for more storytelling with the next generation of Fuentes kids. Although I haven't seen an official mention of Simone Elkeles writing more stories for the Fuentes family, I noticed that GoodReads has an untitled fourth volume listed, so maybe there will be more forthcoming, which is why I said earlier that this was possibly the last book. If there aren't any more, then Chain Reaction was a nice wrap-up to the series, and if so, then I'll be eager to read more about these wonderful characters.


Simone Elkeles


Amazing Animals
Opposite Sides of the Track