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Chemistry Paperback – June 10, 2015
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"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.
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.
Chemistry is a fast read that will keep you hooked. Fans of Hugo's original should not dismiss this adaptation.
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.