RULES OF ATTRACTION
Simone Elkeles perfectly captures all that is so precious about teenage relationships. First, Elkeles brilliantly expresses the universal desire to cling to what we know but interest in the unknown. Carlos is a gang member and Kiara is a good student but they are attracted to the others' wildly different lifestyle. Second, the "are we dating? aren't we dating?" confusion that frequently comes at the beginning of teen relationships is felt by both characters. Even the beginning of their relationship, which starts as a way for Carlos to get revenge, leaves both of them wondering what's real and what's a game. Third, there is no denying teenage hormones. Kiara and Carlos live in the same house (strike one against making out) are wildly different (strike two) and he's bad news for a smart girl like Kiara (strike three). But all of those strikes combine to make their relationship inevitable in the world of teen romance.
Elkeles also does a great job of portraying family dynamics. The characters in Rules Of Attraction range from age six to ninety-six and not once did this reviewer stop and thing "implausible!" Carlos and his brother Alex fight with an honest "take no prisoners" verbal exchange each time the topic of Mexico or girlfriends comes up. And neither character is ever painted as saintly. And when Carlos phones home to Mexico and ends up talking to his little brother, rather than his mother, Carlos' big-brother side emerges in the conversation. With the Westford children, Kiara and Brandon who are many more years apart share a loving cameraderie, but it is clear that Kiara is the "adult" in the relationship and not to be talked back to. Elkeles also uses Carlos' relationship with Brandon to seamlessly weave Carlos into the pattern of the Westford family.
Carlos Fuentes' mother has sent him to America to try to make a better (gang-free) life with his older brother, Alex, in Colorado. However, after being enrolled in his new high school for only a few weeks, Carlos is framed with drugs in his locker. As this is against school policy and Carlos is facing expulsion, Alex and his mentor, Westford, arrange for Carlos to stay with at the Westford family home. Kiara Westford, who has already reluctantly agreed to show Carlos around at school, finds her life invaded by this surly (but good-looking) teenage boy. However as the two share experiences at school and home, they find the walls between them crumbling away. Carlos helps Kiara have the confidence to stop stuttering and Kiara's attention makes Carlos begin to believe that he could do something better than just be a gang member. But when his old associations reach out to haunt him, will it compromise everything Carlos has worked so hard for?
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