Author: Jodi Lamm
Genre: Young Adult
Goodreads rating: 4.00 out of 5.00 (6+ ratings)
You don’t want to read this book. I’m warning you. This isn’t a heartwarming, boy-meets-girl, high school romance. I wish it were—God, do I ever. No, if you read this, you’re going to be angry… with me, mostly. You’ll probably yell at me, if you’re the type of person who yells at books. You’ll tell me not to be so stupid, but I won’t listen. I’ll be exactly as stupid as I need to be to destroy everything I love because that’s who I am: a walking, talking tragedy. That’s who I’ve always been. But if you’re determined to read on despite my warning, I may as well introduce myself. My name is Claude Frollo, I’m nineteen going on ninety, and this is my story. It isn’t pretty, but it’s honest. And it’s the only story I have left to tell.
Review by Nara and Chantelle
Thank you to the author for providing us with a copy of Chemistry. In no way did this affect our opinions of the book.
Before I started Chemistry, knowing that it was going to be a retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was pretty interested to see how closely Lamm was going to make the story to the original. More specifically, since the book is from the point of view of the villain, Claude Frollo, how evil will she make him?
One major criticism I have of the novel is that I definitely had trouble with the suspension of disbelief. Isn't this a contemporary retelling? There were just too many aspects of the book that I couldn't believe would ever happen in a relatively normal modern world (as in, not some ganglands or whatever), examples:
1. The love interest, Esmeralda is homeless/an illegal immigrant yet has a goat. A freaking goat.
2. So, someone got stabbed, and instead of there being a police investigation or whatever, there's some weird vigilante thing going on with the guy's friends.
Strangely, there were also a few issues which in other books would be deal-breakers but which sort of worked in Chemistry.
1. MAJOR instalove. I didn't see the connection between Claude and Esmeralda at all, but I think that it works here, because it serves to enhance how twisted Claude is.
Then I see a fire.
It's Esmeralda. She's dressed in orange and red and gold. She's burning with color and warmth. It's the warmth that draws me from my corner and forces me closer to her. I can't help it.
2. NONE of the characters are even remotely likable. In fact, most of them are downright irritating. However, this is actually something somewhat consistent with the original, and so maybe it was something the author wanted to do. And, in fact, the narrator, Claude, was insane. ABSOLUTELY INSANE. I kid you not. I wouldn't even necessarily say that he's evil. Just insane.
The progression of the novel was quite dramatic- it was obvious that it was leading up to a climax (particularly if you know what happens in the original non-Disney version of the Hunchback). I felt that the ending was really quite weird. The novel ends with a letter, which seemed to me to be quite disconnected from the rest of the text. I'm still not sure what the point of it was (it's probably something subtle that I didn't manage to pick up).
Overall, I felt that perhaps the author kept the story-line too close to the original to make the transition to modern day flawless. However, if you can manage to jump the hurdle of the suspension of disbelief, it was certainly interesting enough.
Chemistry was definitely interesting! That was, in my opinion, solely because of the main character, Claude Frollo. I've got to agree with Nara, he is Insane, capital I Insane... but I sort of loved it! His passionate, impulsive and irrational nature made the first person narrative unlike any I've read. We got to watch everyone else become heroes while his obsessive, all-consuming love for Esmeralda caused him to self-destruct. He fell into the common trap of believing Esmeralda was more than she was. His delusion was my addiction, this novel was definitely a page-turner!
Just for one night, let her love me.
However, I also have to agree with Nara that this retelling may have stayed too true to the original in regards to the plot and not the style. Esmeralda has a pet goat... there are the same very outdated names - Claude, Valentine, Esmeralda, Phoebus... Claude lives in a church... the description of Valentine's 'ugliness' was so overdone I was confounded as to how he was even alive. I don't believe that it was convincingly brought into the twenty-first century.
But the truth is I half believe this fever was brought on by my own nearness to hell.
There were also a few plot holes that I had to really fight to ignore. Esmeralda, like in the original, is accused of stabbing Phoebus and is being targeted by Phoebus' loyal friends. I don't understand why they didn't turn her into the cops...
It’s much more pleasant to freeze to death than it is to burn.
Although there were fundamental issues with the characters and plot, the last quarter of the novel was its redemption. The scenario was perfectly modern, Lamm's twist on the ending was extremely well done and a thrilling read. This was where the retelling truly came to life; Claude Frollo's story is a tragedy, it's obvious from the blurb, and let me tell you, his descent and desperation were a force, but hopefully you'll find that out for yourselves.
Science has failed to save me from myself.
You may be wondering why I've inserted quotes throughout this review that aren't even in context. Well my reason was to illustrate how it was to read this novel.
Chaos reigns supreme in the end
In parts, my impression of Chemistry was a little negative. However, Lamm has such a wonderful way with Claude's erratic almost bipolar narrative - with some outstanding quotes - that I couldn't help but enjoy myself, I would also recommend this novel to others.
No one can hold me down.