by Jodi Lamm
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.
Jodi Lamm's Chemistry is a modern retelling of the classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, set in a high school and starring a cast of teenage characters. You don't have to have read The Hunchback of Notre Dame to enjoy this book, but I do think a simple understanding of the classic's basic plot could be helpful when reading Chemistry. You can find a brief summary on Wikipedia HERE.
In Chemistry, Jodi Lamm has taken a classic tale and created her own twisted, intensely dark, and captivating story. Chemistry is narrated by the 19 year old main character, Claude, and explores how Claude's life takes a tragic and hard turn upon the arrival of the beautiful Esmeralda. Like several of the main characters, Claude becomes infatuated and obsessed with Esmeralda, but she only has eyes for the handsome Phoebus. Both Claude and his deformed best friend (in the Quasimodo role), Valentine, fall hard for Esmeralda and set out to protect her from the dangerous Phoebus and his friends. An almost rape, literal back-stabbing, rescue gone awry, and deep betrayal all lead up to an explosive and deadly conclusion.
Much of the classic plot remains in Chemistry, as well as most of the character names, but Lamm has definitely crafted something that is all her own. The classic story translates very well in this modern setting with its modern and relatable situations. Lamm proves to be an effective storyteller and superb character developer.
The story in Chemistry is very dark, twisted, and disturbing in the most engrossing way. Lamm doesn't hold anything back, which creates a wonderfully layered story. This isn't an “easy” read and deals with some very heavy and hard subject matter (rape, murder, abuse, drug use, etc), but all of these things are necessary to capture the story being told. The plot moves at a steady pace, and while some storylines aren't explained as much as others and some seem a bit messy, Claude's main story is deftly laid out.
And it seems to me that Chemistry is more a character study than anything else...but this isn't a bad thing at all. In fact, I found myself incredibly entranced by Claude's narration and inner monolgue/stream of consciousness. Claude is such a delicately complex character and Lamm shows his internal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, in some really breathtaking ways. I was both enamored and disgusted by Claude, usually at the same time, which is the sign of a truly well-developed character. He's impossible to ignore and forget.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS: As far as retellings go, Chemistry is a great one. This dark, unputdownable book, with its unforgettable narrator and twisted story, will shock and captivate, and leave readers both entertained and thoughtful.
If you care to know the usual, I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. I currently live in the Sonoran Desert with The Other Lamm, three furry creatures (only one of which is an honorary dragon), and a variety of musical instruments. I write for the love of storytelling. I’m addicted to fantasy, ghost stories, and anything with just the right amount of eerie romance.