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Chemistry Paperback – June 10, 2015
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Chemistry is a modern reimagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, told in first-person, present tense from the perspective of the high school senior Claude Frollo. It tracks his dysfunctional relationships with everyone who looks up to him; his growing obsession with the new girl, Esmeralda; and his downward spiral into self-destructive sociopathy.
Chemistry is addicting. I ploughed through it in less than a day, and even when I had to put it down, I stayed caught in the horrible, piercing, electrifying world Lamm has created inside Claude's head.
Insanity is becoming an over-used trope, especially in tragic romance, but Lamm refreshes it and makes it unnervingly real. Claude is a maniac - dangerously charismatic inside his own mind, even though he cannot be in real life. The horrors he concocts are made all the more filthy by the good he has done and the heights he dreams of reaching. The worst part is that, right up to the end, you want him to win. He does a fantastic job of convincing the reader that he deserves his little sins, even though the words themselves press constantly for condemnation.
The story Lamm has woven is enthralling, stomach-turning in the best possible way. I went in with high expectations and came away with aching teeth and a burning throat, simultaneously shattered and satisfied.
I'm still a bit shell-shocked.
I'm a huge fan of retellings and I simply love seeing the heftier classics take on a new life in something new. I will admit I've never actually read Hunchback of Notre Dame in its entirety, but I do know the full story so it was great to see the parallels being played out. As the blurb says it's not a heartwarming story, it's dark and gritty...and at times a bit chilling.
Claude Frollo is one of those characters that can be stamped as `crazy' and not many people would dispute the title. I'm not sure the character would disagree either. Since the book is being `written' by Claude we get a personal view and feel for all that goes through his mind, and we get a front row seat to his mental decline. I can honestly say it's a bit scary to witness it. He starts off as someone who is a loner, who is quiet and sullen with only one friend and not much need for more...to someone who becomes obsessed with the idea of Esmeralda and willing throw everything aside for her. Valentine is probably my favorite character, he's a silent character but his presence is very strong. He's a sort of silent guardian and I loved how much detail that Lamm put into this character. Esmeralda was probably the character I liked the least, her passion for things is something that Claude admired in her but at the same time she's too willing to place it in people who shouldn't have it. She sees what she wants to see and I found that to be a double edged sword in terms of her likability.
The ending left me breathless and I had to take a moment to let it all sink in before I could even close my Kindle. Jodi Lamm is probably one of my favorite authors now, thanks not only this novel but also Titan Magic.
"Chemistry" is a retelling of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" set in a modern day high school. The first-person narrator is a bitter, old-before-his-time Claude Frollo, a 19-year-old orphan who has aged out of the foster care system. He makes a living as a caretaker at a local church. Claude's only friends are fellow outcasts Peter Gringoire, the school playwright and philosopher, and Valentine, the hideously ugly church organist.
Claude considers himself asexual and thinks of his life as complete until a new girl, Esmeralda, comes to school. With one look at her, all his inner walls start to crumble, and he realizes he would do anything to have her...even if it means destroying her.
Fans of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (the book, not the Disney version or any of the assorted Hollywood versions) will be delighted to encounter familiar characters and bits of dialogue that fit smoothly into this edgy retelling. And don't let the high school setting fool you; the stakes in "Chemistry" could not be higher.
Lamm has also done a wonderful job uncovering the fatal flaws in each of the main characters, not just Claude Frollo.
You don't need to be familiar with "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" to enjoy this book, although it will help.
In summary, this is a compelling, fast-paced twist on an old favorite. I couldn't put it down. What's more, I didn't want to.