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Can't Beat the Chemistry

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Ionic and covalent bonds are a piece of cake for MJ. But human bonds are a little harder ...

There are only two things MJ wants in her final year of high school:

1) Glowing grades and ...

2) to convince uber-smart, chiselled-jaw Jason they’d be a winning team outside the science lab as well as in.

Tutoring deadbeat drummer, Luke, isn’t part of the plan. After all, he has average intelligence, takes disorganised notes and looks like a partied-out zombie at their study sessions! Not even his taut biceps will win MJ over.

But MJ learns that she could be tutored in a few life lessons too: That sometimes there’s good reason to skip chemistry tutorials. That intelligence is so much more than a grade average.

And that sometimes you can’t beat the chemistry.

274 pages, Paperback

First published April 20, 2019

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About the author

Kat Colmer

8 books57 followers
Kat Colmer is a Sydney-based Young Adult author who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She has a Master of Education in Teacher Librarianship and loves working with teens and young adults. When not writing, teaching, or reading the latest in YA fiction, Kat spends time with her two resident YA critics - aka her two children.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 65 reviews
Profile Image for Toni.
515 reviews
July 30, 2019
Seventeen year old MJ (Macca, Mackenzie Jane) Olsen-Wang is a bit of an overachiever. She is in her last year of school and is also taking some university courses to help her get into a top medical program. She is studious, organised, focused…and totally clueless as far as reading people and subtle social clues are concerned. She fancies Jason, a fellow brainiac and her project partner, but she doesn’t really know how to go about it apart from being super prepared on her science article notes.
Luke is her brother Theo’s roommate. He is a drummer and is failing Introductory Chemistry, a course Macca excelled at. Theo’s trying to help by insisting Macca tutor Luke in exchange for some drumming lessons for her friend Sally. Macca is extremely reluctant to do it. She has already made a lot of assumptions about Luke, but what if she is wrong?
'Can’t beat the chemistry' is a sweet and heartwarming story of an unlikely bond forming between two people who need a little help from each other to work out what they want from life. I loved the main characters, although Luke seemed a little too perfect, despite his difficult past and self-doubts. The double POV works really well in this novel, as it gives you an insight into how similar the protagonists are and how great they would be together.
There are some difficult issues touched upon in the novel: overbearing, overdemanding parents who try to live their dream through their children, raising children with special needs and the strain it might put on the parents, dealing with a genetic disorder which runs in your family.
I really enjoyed this charming story with a great message of ‘caring about people, not their achievements’.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

My reviews can also be found on:
Profile Image for Kelly (Diva Booknerd).
1,106 reviews299 followers
April 14, 2019
Attraction is a science. Inexact maybe, but still a science.

She's assuming and judgemental, her factual and no nonsense approach to social situations is abrasive and often insulting. Mackenzie Olsen - Wang is revered for her intelligence and she's also just agreed to provide tutelage for Luke Bains, musician, prospective teacher and miserably failing introductory chemistry.

Luke is a gentle young man and despite being accused of being the stereotypical musician, Luke spends his free time caring for his sister and her local special education school as a voluntary music teacher for adolescents with Down Syndrome.

What ensues is a beautiful and tentative friendship of acceptance, challenging stereotypes and following the path less travelled. Wonderfully written, Kat Colmer is an author creating diverse and realistic characters and Can't Beat The Chemistry is a feel great read.
Profile Image for Jana.
83 reviews5 followers
June 21, 2021
This was so cuteee. MJ did piss me off at the start but she had such good character development and Luke is so damn cute. They really compliment each other well. And thank god there was no big fight which lasted for a long time and there was no major misunderstanding 😥
Profile Image for Regina.
910 reviews
February 19, 2019
What a wonderful book! I love Kat Colmer's writing and storytelling. Her characters feel real, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know MJ and Luke, and they were easy to root for - through all their silliness, angst, sadness, joy and pretty much all the feels. <3
In all probability, I may never listen to Unchained Melody again without getting a big, silly grin on my face...
Bonus points for Rosie - she's definitely one of my favorite characters, and she adds so much fun and heart to the story.
Profile Image for temi.
82 reviews27 followers
April 13, 2022
characters: 3/5
pacing: 3/4
actual substance of the story: 5/5
romance and/or significant friendships: 4/5
the writing: 2/4
creativity: 2/2

20/25 | 4 STARS

Lemme just say that I love the title. It defines the whole book.

Macca (or MJ, which is what everyone calls her) is study-driven student. Because her mom gave up her dream of being a doctor for the sake of her kids and MJ's brother Theo decided to be an artist, MJ is next in line to fulfill her mother's dream. She's extremely studious, is completely unaware of any social cues, and has been blessed with her mother's thinking and stereotyping.

I really liked her character development. It was refreshing to see her be such a subtly trashy person then watch her slowly mature. I'm just having a VERY difficult time understanding how anyone could act like that. Sure, people who are this serious about school and success are annoying, but the worst example I know of doesn't even act like this. I understand being socially unaware, but her whole character combination is too unbelievable. Also, MJ attends an all-girl's boarding school; whenever a male walks into the boarding house, someone pulls out a sheet of paper to make him take the "Boarding House Boy Test." Is that real? Maybe it's an Australian girl's boarding school thing. I wouldn't know.

Luke is failing chemistry. He needs a tutor. He's also a drummer. Hmm, I wonder who could tutor him.

Oh look! One mega-academic girl and an "incompetent" drummer who's bad at chemistry? Who fell in love in this book? I wouldn't be surprised if you found this question difficult to answer.

The thing about this book is that it's really basic and predictable. Nothing here was shocking. There was even this stupid scene where Luke thought he was Sherlock Holmes for figuring out that MJ didn't want to major in medicine. But I enjoyed it. This book is funny, light-hearted, and kind of cute.

Some nice things:
➤ Luke runs a drum circle for the special needs kids of his sister's school.
➤ I like how the writing shows their exact thoughts.
➤ Luke and MJ's POVs are distinctive.
➤ I've never read a book set in Australia—I'm a book virgin in, like, every sense—so that was nice. In my head, they spoke in American accents, then every two pages I'd be like, oh yeah. they're Australian and suddenly characters were adding "crikey" to the ends of their sentences.

Some annoying things:
➤ Luke is too perfect (his only "flaws" are his past and his lack of knowledge in chemistry), and MJ could never exist.
➤ Some of this dialogue is really unnatural. Some of the things Luke says could flow way better if he had just thought them, rather than actually speak them out loud. "I want to jump into the rapids every once in a while, and feel the rush of fighting the current before it drags me under. And to do that I need someone who's not afraid to push me off my emotional ledge." HE SAID THIS OUT LOUD WITH NO SHAME. (????????)

I got a free copy of this through NetGalley from Wombat Books.
Profile Image for Saskia.
394 reviews34 followers
March 31, 2019
I received an advance digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

What a book! I can't remember the last time I laughed so much because of a book. My thoughts are going wild right now, so I'll try my best to structure them a little bit.

"It's not that simple."
"Nothing worth doing ever is."

1. Things that I personally really love:
MJs parents are chinese and norwegian (😏) and surprinsigly her norwegian mother is the "evil" parent. Her viking ancestors are to blame.
There is also a dog. He just says hi in a chapter, but even that makes me really happy 🧡
It's science related! I am not a huge chemistry fan (I enjoy physics a lot more) but the book still works for me perfectly. It's more about how hard it is to achive something in STEM and how people think in those fields.

"How's uni?" "Goind well. I'm really enjoying the education lectures this semester." Both studying to be teachers. How claustrophobic.

2. Reasons why you should read this book:
It's a sweet and authentic lovestory. No hate to love story but a story between two differently thinking people who learn how to complement each other. It's not full off passion and more down to earth with getting to know each other without unnecassary conflicts.
The missing of a stupid plot twist: people, those books excist! Yes, there is a missunderstanding due to the lack of communication. But right after that incident they speak with each other in a civilised way and everything is all right.
The friendship between MJ and Sandy doesn't have much room to evolve, like the relationship between MJ and her brother Theo, but they're still a huge part of the story and great supporting characters. But there is still a little bit good old drama 😉

I sigh and reach into the bag of chips again. "If he's into you, he'll try to get into your personal space, find excuses to touch you, on your shoulder, your hand." I pop a chip in my mouth and flick her a glance. Her brow is back to imitating corrugated iron. Probably analysing her last study seesion with the guy. "He'll also be real attentive, hang on your every word, that sort of - what are you doing?" She' rummaging around in her messenger bag, pulling out a - you've got to be kidding me! "Will you put that away!" I make a grab for the notebook and pen she's produced, but she's too quick and pulls them out of my reach. I shake my head. "This isn't the kind of thing you can study for, MJ." "Why not? Attraction is a science. Inexact maybe, but still a science."

Last but not least: Luke and MJ. I love the alternating chapters between the two of them. They complement themself perfectly. Especially Lukes pov was an eye opener to me. His snarky thoughts commenting MJs behaviour are hilarous! I didn't find her way of thinking that shocking therefore it felt naturally to me as a physicist, but I can totally see why he is so confused and amused at the same time. I also love that he doesn't use this to his advantage and just enjoys it silently. Theo is right: Luke is a good one.

I look around the study space, just to make sure I'm really in the library and not stuck in some weird rom-com version of the Matrix.

3. It reminded me a bit of Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry which is more a classical love-hate lovestory with quite a lot unneccessary drama. In the end I would compare it more with Rainbow Rowells Fangirl. Take the fanfiction-stuff away and put science into it and then you have Beat the Chemistry. MJ has here awkward moments, too, but the difference is, she doesn't know.
Profile Image for Madison.
1,065 reviews59 followers
April 6, 2019
If you are looking for a fun and lighthearted YA romance, then you’ll love Can’t Beat The Chemistry by Kat Colmer. Music, chemistry, hate-to-love romance and great character development, Can’t Beat The Chemistry has a winning combination of elements to produce a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

MJ is finishing her final year of high school while also taking two university courses. It’s all part of her mother’s plan for her to become a doctor. MJ would rather study genetics but after the falling out between her mother and brother, MJ knows better than to deviate from the plan. That’s why she need glowing grades. The chance to work with Jason (smart and super focused) on their group project doesn’t hurt. But when MJ’s brother asks her to help tutor his best friend Luke in chemistry, MJ is sure she doesn’t have time to waste with the slack, disorganised drummer. Yet it seems MJ has something she could learn from Luke about family, commitment and maybe even love.

Can’t Beat The Chemistry fills a nice gap for crossover YA that is still clean and suitable for younger readers. It has a young and fresh tone to the writing, but MJ is finalising her last year of high school while also completing university classes (which are the focus of the setting and plot) and Luke is a first year uni student, which gives the book a mature edge, not in content so much as perspective. And bonus, it is written by an Australian and set in Australia. There are just a few mentions of settings and Aussie culture, but it give a nice familiarity (for us Aussie readers) yet will appeal to all readers.

I enjoyed the blooming relationship between MJ and Luke. They do not have a smooth start - MJ is judgemental and Luke understandably withdrawn. As they begin to work together, learn each other’s story and experience the other’s world, they develop a nice friendship. I really liked that the chemistry and romantic feelings came much later in their relationship and wasn’t a quick (or unbelievable) flip from not-quite-enemies-but-certainly-not-friends to friends and then something a little more romantic..

MJ has a lot to learn about friendship, relationships and expectations of other people. She is judgemental. But, through her time spent with Luke and his family, she learns not to limit her judgements to her jaded point of view and to be surprised about people. From Luke’s delightful younger sister, his hobbies, friends and constant giving spirit, he is unexpected and teaches MJ a lot. And MJ is open to learning - in fact learning is something she does really well. My only concern with the story was regarding MJ’s friendship with Sandy. When MJ starts falling for the boy Sandy likes I thought there would be more drama. Instead Sandy simply bows to MJ. It’s very supportive of her, yet MJ doesn’t ever seem to return that support.

Can’t Beat The Chemistry is a fun and lighthearted novel with a great message about true intelligence, judging others and fighting for your dreams.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library
36 reviews4 followers
January 8, 2019
This is a bit of the classic good girl bad boy romance but at least it is Australian and has a contemporary feel. MJ is a super high achiever who is focused on her (or her Mum's) ultimate dream of becoming a surgeon. She hesitantly agrees to tutor Luke her older brother's drummer friend in Chemistry so that he would tutor her friend Sandy at drumming. Sandy is much more interested in Luke than drumming!
MJ is sure that Luke is nothing more than a deadbeat drummer especially when he turns up late, unprepared and with eyes that look like he has had a big weekend. But first impressions are often wrong and as they start spending time together they soon realise how wrong!
There are some great scenes and character's like Rosie, Luke's down syndrome Patrick Swayze loving little sister and the times luke spends with her are special.
One of the things that I most love about this newish Australian publisher is that they are getting great stories like this published without the need to have any swearing, drug use or overt sex. It's just good modern literature that everyone can enjoy reading.
Luke is a great guy who knows what is important in life but just needs someone to believe in him and give him a gentle nudge. MJ knows exactly what she wants until life and Luke start to show her different possibilities!
Profile Image for Richard.
436 reviews5 followers
March 30, 2019
I loved this. Mainly I loved MJ. She is serious and driven. How Luke draws her out of herself with his natural charm and goodness is lovely to witness. And the scene where Luke teaches her how to kiss manages to be ridiculous, credible, funny and very very romantic.

I whipped through it in 3 days.
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,650 followers
December 26, 2019
3.5 STARS! So precious, so cute, and so so refreshing. I loved it. RTC 💜

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publisher, Rhiza Edge.
Profile Image for Mya.
63 reviews38 followers
May 29, 2022
This book is truly one of my favourite books. I've read this book 5 times and I'll happily read it again. I loved every bit of this book and I recommend it to everyone to read.
Thank you Kat Colmer for this beautiful book.
Profile Image for § Zara §.
23 reviews2 followers
May 5, 2022
*edit of previous review because i didn't like the review*
i really liked this book as it was unlike any other romance book. MJ had character development and boy was the love in this book cute. 100% would re-read this/ recommend.
Profile Image for ♛Vanessa♛ Fangirl Faction.
845 reviews597 followers
May 12, 2019
3.5/5 StarsDisclaimer: This review MAY contain spoilers. I received an Advance Reader Copy at no cost from Netgalley. The opinions in my review are my own.

This is an opposites-attract story that touches on some important things. One major theme in this book is learning not to judge a book by its cover. Getting to know someone instead of making assumptions based on what you can see on the outside.

I liked seeing the Down Syndrome representation in Luke's sister, Rosie. She was such a great character and I loved her. I also liked how the theme of overbearing parents was touched on. MJ's mother puts too much pressure on her and is basically a helicopter parent wanting to live through her daughter by making her become a doctor. MJ struggles because she doesn't want to disappoint her mother and yet her dreams do not lie in medicine.

MJ and Luke are the main characters in this book and the story is told through their alternating POVs. I really liked Luke's character. He was a great friend, brother, son, and person. He was serious book boyfriend material. His kindness and genuine nature radiated from him. MJ, on the other hand, is a character that I could not connect with the least bit. I straight up hated her at the beginning of the book. She was judgmental and stuck up. She had serious blinders on when it came to the world around her. She was smart, but she was very socially inept. While her backstory did soften her to me a bit, I still never really liked her. Even with an overbearing mother ruling her life, I felt it unrealistic that she could still be so callous. It was a naivety that seemed too bizarre to feel real. I did like Luke and MJ's character journeys with regard to being judgmental. They both judged the other in the beginning but learn that there is more under the surface. I did like all of the side characters. They were all great and had the perfect impacts in the story.

I really loved the plot. The premise for this story was one that caught my attention right away. I always love an opposites-attract story and this one had a lot of potential. I found it lacking in a lot of ways and this mostly boils down to the execution of the story. I found the storytelling hard to follow at times and a bit choppy. The writing voice isn't one that I connected with. It occurred to me while reading this that some of the dialogue was unusual to me. I found this hard to get used to at first. I gathered that this book takes place in Australia (where I do not live) and I came to wonder if perhaps it came down to a cultural barrier of some kind for me. The characters said things and used slang and abbreviations that I was unfamiliar with. Once I got used to the difference it was a bit easier to read.

The romance was enjoyable. MJ and Luke are pushed together and they both dislike the other in the beginning. Through their tutoring sessions and the weekend that MJ spends with Luke and his family, they learn more about each other and a friendship forms that turns into more. They both find that their original assumptions of the other is not the complete picture and that there is more to the other than they originally thought. They both encourage each other in ways that matter. I also liked how MJ started to realize her feelings for Jason were unwarranted because he didn't make her feel the things that Luke did. He didn't encourage her.

Overall, this was an entertaining opposites-attract romance that kept my interest. I enjoyed the romance and though I had issues with one of the main characters, I still enjoyed the book as a whole. It didn't knock me out of the water but it did rock the boat. It's a fun and quick read.

More reviews on my blog: Novel Nerd Faction
Profile Image for Aly.
2,615 reviews
June 1, 2019
This was a super cute, fun read! MJ and Luke are totally different people and that's what makes them good together. They clash constantly, she's a type A personality who wants to control everything and he is more relaxed and goes for what he wants. MJ and Luke had great chemistry and I had a great time watching their relationship develop and them bring out the best in each other.
MJ is a bit hard to like at first. She can be condescending and made snap judgments about Luke, but she grows gets better and I was happy for her at the end.
Definitely recommend this book!
March 7, 2019
I really like reading books from Australian authors and Kat Colmer is one of them.  I really enjoy her writing and characters.

MJ is a bit tough to like at first.  She's so smart and not very good with people, so she comes off as rude and arrogant.  We find out about the pressure MJ's mom puts on her and it makes it easier to understand her.  Everything in her life has been about grades and becoming a doctor.  She's never really had fun.  MJ is determined to get paired up with a cute boy she likes, Jason, for her science project.  

Luke is MJ's brother, Theo's, roommate.  He's a drummer, but also taking chemistry which he is failing.  After some pressure, MJ agrees to tutor him.  She has her own idea on Luke's life.  She pictures him as a drummer in a band that stays out doing gigs all weekend with drugs and alcohol.  Luke drives 2 hours back home every weekend.  But MJ is surprised when she finds out why.  Their chemistry is great and they have this growing attraction along with annoyance of each other.  But MJ knows she needs to follow the path her mother made for her and not go off course, even though she doesn't want to be a doctor.

I love how Luke was able to break through with MJ at times.  I liked Theo and wish he was in the book more.  And then there is Rosie.  OMG, I loved her.  And her relationship with Luke was amazing.  I liked the movie references and the boarding school setting.  

I gave this book 4  1/2 stars.  Thank you to the author and publisher for sending me a copy for review.

Warnings for controlling parents, verbally abusive parents, abandonment, and discrimination against down's syndrome (which is challenged).  

Profile Image for Siobhan Yilmaz.
136 reviews2 followers
February 22, 2019
A great story on how never to judge!
MJ is a straight A student and has her head screwed on to become a doctor. Everything she does is to get good grades but she doesn't have any life experience. Luke, on the other hand, is a drummer boy who lives for the beat and due to reasons you'll have to find out yourself, is failing his chemistry. He needs help and his flatmate highly recommends his little sisters tuition. That happens to be MJ.
The two bond and find out the other is extremely different from how they perceived. It's lovely to read how the relationship develops, but with the intelligent Jason added to the mix (MJ's crush), it seems unclear how or who she wants for a while.
This book is about discovering yourself, what you want in life and choosing who to let in.
Profile Image for Katherine Paschal.
2,157 reviews57 followers
April 20, 2019
Come see more bookish things are https://smadasbooksmack.blogspot.com/

MJ has had her whole life mapped out by her intense driven mother and deviating from the intensive plan is not an option. When her brother asks her to help tutor his roommate Luke in chemistry she has no time or interest to waste on him. But after promising her brother and best friend she would help him, she is stuck with the situation. Luke is desperate to prove that he can pass chemistry, even if it means excepting the help of Theo's prickly, hedgehog of a sister. But what started out as a favor turned into something unexpected for them both, but that doesn't mean that it can work.

Say yes, Mackenzie. Because suddenly I’m real keen to get into another tutoring session—one involving a whole different kind of chemistry.

This is very much an opposites attract kind of love story, which is always fun. We have MJ who is this very clinical, borderline OCD girl who has never met a challenge she has not overachieved at- but has no idea how a romantic relationship really works. And then there is mess, distracted, musically inclined Luke who is desperate to pass his chemistry class- even if it means sparring with his roommate's sister over basically everything. I loved the fact this was a slow burn romance, where they started as almost enemies, became friends and then slowly developed romantic feelings. No insta-love here, and I loved that! It also didn't hurt that Luke was such a cutie, with his laid back personality, love for his sister, passion for his studies, and sweetness- he was 100% book boyfriend potential so be prepared to crush. Let's also take a second to mention how Sandy and Theo were the best friend the characters could have ever hoped for and I loved them both!

The one thing I will say is I wonder if some things got lost in the slang terms and I had to battle my through what the characters were talking about and what was going on for the first few chapters. For example, "panel beater", "mid-sem", "tute, and "softies" just to name a few terms that popped up within the first few pages of the book. It was almost like reading a book in a different language (which is still English but set in Australia) and I had to put the pieces together based on context to determine what was actually happening. Once I realized that I was not going to catch the slang for everything I was more able to just enjoy the story.

Overall this is a really cute YA contemporary full of overcoming fears, realizing who you really are and finding love in the unlikeliest place. Kat wrote realistic characters that I rooted for and I look forward for what she writes next!
Profile Image for Sue.
947 reviews
February 17, 2019
What a great read. The writer is so capable of pinpointing and describing the crazy things we say to ourselves. Lots of humour mixed with lots about growing up and the effect of families on young people. MJ and Luke seem impossibly different at the start and the reader enjoys the growing attraction as much as these two do. Great insight into Down syndrome and drumming.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Heidi Catherine.
Author 38 books209 followers
February 21, 2019
So many things to love about this book! It's sweet, it's funny, it's heartfelt and real. At first MJ and Luke seem like such an unlikely match, but by the end of the book we see just how perfect they really are. Really enjoyed this book and looking forward to more from this author!
Profile Image for Debra Tidball.
Author 3 books28 followers
July 17, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful coming of age rom-com with hints of The Rosie Project and Pride and Prejudice. The characters are fresh and dynamic, multifaceted and with depth. It was a joy to witness the 'chemistry' between MJ and Luke (who share the narration) not in a cliched, romantic way, but rather how they act on each other to make each other better versions of themselves. A refreshing, easy to read YA novel that I didn't want to end.
40 reviews
April 23, 2019
Great holiday read - romantic, with real characters, and laughs. MJ is book smart, but a klutz with romance. Luke has great arms and a great heart. The kissing scenes were A++, hot but clean, a Kat Colmer trademark. Definitely recommended!
Profile Image for mel.
191 reviews
April 19, 2019
First of all a huge thank you to Emily Lighezzolo from Rhiza Edge, and Kat Colmer herself for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange of an honest review!

Note: Minor spoilers possibly???

Can't Beat the Chemistry stole my heart from the get-go. Kat Colmer enraptures you with her writing, and creates characters you can't help falling in love with. The characters were incredibly relatable, and Colmer manages to weave a story rich with romance and incredibly important life lessons. Can't Beat the Chemistry sends the message that our lives are ours for the taking and whatever we're passionate about, whatever we want to do- we should just do it. No one else's opinions matter as long as you're happy and we write our own destinies. It also teaches us that we are all unique, and that everyone has strengths within them, if we just delve deep enough. It shows us that there is more to people than what's on the surface, and that we shouldn't make snap judgments about others. These are all lessons the main character, MJ, learns along the way.

MJ herself is such a complex character and I couldn't help falling in love with her. She honestly stole the show and she's one of the only characters I've related to. As an Asian, I love seeing Asians represented in the media, and so when I realised MJ was Chinese-Norwegian, I was so happy! We hardly see ourselves in the media and it's so important that we do, because it inspires each new generation of people of colour. Representation is so important. Anyway, MJ was a delight to read about, as I related so much to her in so many aspects. My favourite quote about MJ is uttered by Luke himself, "Prickly and standoffish, that's what a first and undiscerning glance reveals about MJ. But if you brave the initial discomfort and peer closer, you uncover a guarded vulnerability hiding just beneath the spikes." MJ struggles with standing up to her mother. MJ's mum wants her to go to med school to pursue a career in surgery, which MJ doesn't particularly want. Not wanting to disappoint her mother, MJ continues down the path toward med school, struggling with her own ambitions. Her brother, Theo, was set down the same path, but he stood up to their mother and is now pursuing visual art. This unsurprisingly results in their mum's disapproval and scorn, and she doesn't act like the most loving mother toward Theo. MJ states that she wants to stand up for Theo, but is afraid to do so. The desire to stand up for someone, or something, and the accompanying fear and doubt that brings is one we can all relate to. I myself have had many times where I should have said something or done something to help someone, but never did so. MJ has taught me that it's okay to feel this way, and that we can overcome this fear. MJ begins in the novel as someone who's overly judgmental. She values intelligence over everything else, and so, she judges Luke very harshly, labeling him as a druggie drummer who doesn't try hard enough in school. This mentality is due to her upbringing, and the pressure her mum puts on her. Throughout the novel, as she gets to know Luke, she realises there's more to people than their intellect and abilities.I really love MJ, as her growth inspires me so much. She changes from this judgmental person who's afraid to fight for what she wants in life, to an open minded person who knows what she wants and won't let others demean her choices.

Luke is an adorable character who struggles with his own insecurities. He believes he isn't good enough to do what he wants, something many of us struggle with daily. He really comes into his own, like MJ, and realises that he can do whatever he wants, so long as he puts his mind to it. MJ and Luke really bring out the best in each other and I loved their romance. I realise this is a pitifully small section for Luke but that's only because MJ really stole the show for me and I feel like trying to replicate my MJ section for Luke would be futile. That being said, Luke is adorable, and he teaches MJ so many important life lessons, whether he means to or not.

The secondary characters were really well developed in my opinion. One character I want more of is Sandy, MJ's best friend. We don't see much of Sandy, but there are hints throughout the story that there's something more to her. I'd really love to see what Sandy's going through and have her find her happily ever after. Theo, MJ's brother, was relatively well fleshed out, with him going through similar struggles to MJ and their mother holding his decisions against him constantly. Zac, Luke's friend, was fairly interesting and remarkably perceptive- he's also the wingman we all need! The most adorable secondary character is of course, Rosie. Rosie is adorably bubbly and friendly, and the one quote that really sums her up is this: "For Rosie, people come before prizes and achievements. Maybe she's the smartest of us all."

Kat Colmer writes brilliantly, ensnaring us in the story of MJ and Luke, and taking us on their journey of growth and romance. One of my favourite quotes from the book is when she describes Luke's eyes, because it's written so beautifully, "There's an explosion of gold around the nucleus of his pupils, burning ochre bleeding into parakeet green."

I found this book similar to American Panda by Gloria Chao except that it isn't focused on the cultural aspect of the issue. I also think it's kind of like a young adult version of The Deal by Elle Kennedy. Can't Beat the Chemistry has left me wanting more YA novels focused on women in STEM (if you know of any please let me know!)

Overall Kat Colmer stole my heart with this book and I'm so grateful for this story and all the characters in it. I'm signing off with a quote from the book, "You can't let someone else's expectations dictate your life."
Profile Image for Viv.
627 reviews10 followers
March 10, 2019
Ah opposites attracting. Is there a better storyline or observation of the human character? I think not. Especially when they don't like each other or *hate* one another in the beginning. If it's good enough for Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, then it's certainly good enough for everyone.

A quick rundown on your protagonists:
MJ - a quick, sharp and incredibly bright high-schooler, gifted particularly in the sciences who wants to do one thing…only problem is her mother wants another…
Luke - drummer, a so-called "partier"(at least according to MJ), flunking through university chemistry. Which is where MJ comes in.

Normally, when you look at YA fiction romances, you'll find a 'typical' story with heroes and heroines that reflect the fantasy of what we all wish we could have been as a teenager or as a person in general. And there's certainly something to be said for writing role models in the books read during the formative years of teenage-dom. But often you might see characters without true depth or flaws. Not this one. And I absolutely adored the fact that neither of the characters were 'perfect' or with minimal flaws.

Quite simply - they were real. They have real issues that teenagers go through. They came from situations that aren't always ideal. They work through issues that today many teenagers deal with. Deciding on what to do with their lives, battling with parent's expectations, doing what's right by their families.

I loved that both MJ and Luke worked through their issues, flaws and even mindsets as they grew together in their journey. In the beginning, both of them certainly had their fair share of issues they needed to work through. For MJ - wanting to try and please her mother yet yearning for something more, and for Luke - wanting to prove someone wrong and ace chemistry…although that wasn't quite working. Which is where the whole beginning of MJ and Luke's relationship begins. And what a relationship it is. It's always a good sign when you can feel character's pain and sigh at points in their relationship.

Genuinely, if you want to read a lovely YA story that features 2 protagonists who each have their own issues and flaws - that is to say real characters, who go on an adorable journey in beginning a relationship - then this is a book for you. Bonus - it's a great piece of Aussie YA lit! I'd highly recommend giving this a go - you won't regret it.

Note: I was generously sent an ARC of Can't Beat the Chemistry by the author herself in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts expressed are my own. A big thank you to Kat Colmer for this opportunity!
Profile Image for Ashleigh Lau.
40 reviews5 followers
May 14, 2019
I knew just by looking at the title and the blurb that this book would be just the type for me i.e a huge sucker for romantic comedies and romantic drama (actually, anything to do with romance)

MJ a smart, overachiever in science wants to become a genetic scientist, however, she is instead chasing her moms dreams of becoming something else. MJ is someone who I can personally relate to, a mixed child with a Chinese and Norwegian background, (breaking the stereotype that Asians are tiger parents because her mom is actually the one with the Norwegian background). And MJ is also a boarder, a weekly one to be exact. As a mixed child and an (ex) border, I can tell you this book holds true to its world. The beginning of the book PERFECTLY described what it's like to have a boy in the house (especially cause I go to an all girls boarding school), every single detail of boarding is true, from the weekend to leaves, to getting home by six, and I praise Kat so much for getting every finer detail right.

I fell in love with Luke while reading his book because behind that façade dead beat drummer vibe, there is a gentle young man who cares and loves his down syndrome sister so much that he does voluntary teaching for special ed kids. His determination and charm is what surprised me so much about his character, yes I had to admit I was expecting a 'bad boy' persona from him, but instead, I get this beautiful loving side of this character.

The chemistry (haha) between MJ and Luke is not obvious at the start, but as the book progresses you can clearly see it's two complete polar opposites trying to bring out the best in each other.

The basic storyline (without me trying to reveal any spoilers) is that Luke is struggling with first-year uni chemistry, so he asks his roommate Theo, who is also MJ's brother if he can have help from MJ. Reluctantly MJ agrees in exchange for drum lessons for her best friend Sandy.

This YA story is by far one of the best because there is so much I can relate in this book, and Kat Colmer's writing is absolutely beautiful. I sped through this book in about two days staying up on school nights to read it!

Ultimately this book is about (trying not to sound cheesy here) finding who you really are and overcoming those fears you have. It's about discovering yourself, what you what in life and choosing that path. Finally, it's about finding love in the most unlikely of places and people and embracing that.
I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

March 24, 2019
I received an ARC of Can’t Beat the Chemistry. It’s a quick read, made quicker by its fast pace and my difficulty putting it down. CBTC is a well-done high school romance which veers into the territory of social commentary without preaching (okay, there is some preaching – but by the characters, not the author!)

Colmer clearly enjoys writing with dual narrators and it works well in CBTC. The two perspectives are from MJ, an overachieving high school student taking university science courses, and from Luke, a ‘deadbeat drummer' type. MJ agrees to tutor Luke in chemistry, and initially dismisses him as unmotivated, disorganised, and slow, but the more she learns about his background, the more her judgement dissolves.

Luke and his sister Rosie are the stars of the show, and MJ is fortunate that her character develops enough to redeem her by the end of the book. Her journey is believable and enjoyable to follow. I was much intrigued by Theo, and would have loved to hear more from him.

The main story arc is a classic ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but there are also far more intriguing themes I think young people will draw from this story. It deals with the topics of tiger parenting, the pressure of academic expectations placed on teenagers, an overemphasis on academic intelligence in the definition of ‘success,’ and the disjunct between students being told they should follow their dreams, whilst having their dreams dictated to them by parents. In no way are any of these ideas shoehorned in; they shine through in the casual comments MJ and Luke make to one another. I did not expect to come away from this novel feeling contemplative, but I did. Hats off!
Profile Image for Ashlee.
80 reviews26 followers
April 20, 2019
I received an advanced copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

MJ is smart, driven, and focused on getting the grades required to fulfill her mother’s dreams of her becoming a surgeon. She thinks that tutoring her brother’s roommate, Luke, in chemistry is a waste of her time. She thinks that Luke is a deadbeat drummer and she’d rather focus on impressing her science partner, Jason. As the story unfolds, MJ discovers that people are so much more than they seem and that first impressions are often very wrong.

My favourite thing about this book was the characters. I absolutely loved MJ and Luke because even though they’re meant to be opposites, they’re quite similar. They both have drive and determination, and a voice in their head that won’t leave them alone. They’re both incredibly caring, and they help each other face some difficult demons and to make the decision that is best for them, not for everyone else. They’re both cinnamon rolls, and I will ship them forever.

I liked that this book was so much more than the bad boy and the good girl falling for each other. It’s a book about facing hard truths and making difficult decisions that might end up hurting people. It’s about re-examining your decisions and deciding to put yourself first. It’s about learning to believe in yourself when you’ve spent your entire life doubting everything. It’s about a brilliant group of kids with developmental disorders rocking out because someone took the time to believe in them.

The other reason why I loved this book is that it hit painfully close to home for me. MJ’s true interest is genetics because she discovered that there’s a genetic disorder in her family. When I was a little bit younger than MJ, I discovered that there was a genetic disorder in my family, and ten years later, I still haven’t dealt with it. This is the first book that I’ve read that deals with a teenager discovering something like this. I was able to relate to MJ because of her mixed reaction and emotions.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who likes books with cinnamon roll characters, a shippable pair, and dramatic realizations and love confessions.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
238 reviews19 followers
April 6, 2020
I bought this book at The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft. It was their last event before moving their business, and the author was one of the presenters.

I bought this book and got it signed, because it was written by a local teacher librarian.

Young Adults literature and love stories are two genres I don’t normally read. So, this book hung around my bedside table with a bookmark.

Until #covid19 and we all started working from home that is.

Cleaning and looking for something a little more humorous and upbeat, I picked this book up again.

Turns out timing is everything.
This book was a real treat. There was way too much over thinking and descriptions - which kept the tension going. And, there were a few kisses 😚, but nothing more.

Rewarding, in more ways than one.

While marketed as Young Adult, this title would really be for 12 yrs and upwards.

The star quality for me were the secondary characters - balanced, well-developed and included a Downs Syndrome younger sister.

Well done, Kat Colmer.
Profile Image for Penny Jaye.
Author 5 books12 followers
April 19, 2019
Thoroughly enjoyed this fun read!
It's a YA romance with gentle depth. If you're after fully developed characters, authentic romantic tension, compassionate responses to real life issues and a light touch of humour, this one's for you. Won't say more as I don't want to give any of the surprises away.
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