Perfect Score is a difficult book to read and it’s not entirely enjoyable. The story is complex and the characters three dimensional with strengths and weaknesses, all against a backdrop of the 1960s when attitudes were very different about a lot of things. The story takes a real chance in introducing a rather unlikable main character who I never really warmed up to despite his later attempts at change. The other character’s speech defects should endear him to readers but I found myself pitying him more than anything, which creates a second uncomfortable situation while reading when combined with a loathsome other half. In the end the slow pace and questionable characters left me with a bad feeling and sorry I’d read this.
The plot of the story is very character driven, but by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the story was. Alex and Sam meet when they are very young and come from completely opposite sides of life. Alex lives a very sheltered, privileged life with his uncle, the owner of a successful pharmaceutical company. Sam is a dyslexic homeless boy living on the streets trying to avoid authorities and other horrible outcomes. Over the years the two meet and bounce off each other as Alex has a crush on Sam yet can’t quite express it. When the two finally meet they can’t be together as Alex has a baby on the way with his singing partner. The epilogue is meant to give a glimpse into how these two men lived their lives apart but found happiness.
Before getting into the disappointing epilogue the characters themselves are difficult to warm up to. Alex spends the majority of the story as a weak willed, spoiled brat that constantly lies and manipulates to get his way. Not very well though as his uncle always finds out and usually punishes Alex by taking away his money thus forcing Alex to try to get the money from others instead of actually standing on his own. Alex never really grows up from the spoiled, willful, scared boy that is he for most of the story. He finally manages to support Sam in some minor ways towards the end of the book but he comes across as simply wanting someone that he can’t have. He’s sensitive to Sam’s speaking condition, which is perhaps the one bright point to Alex’s otherwise rather disagreeable personality. Unfortunately all of this combined to make him very unlikable.
Likewise Sam is a difficult character. On the one hand he’s gone through so many traumas and hardship that you want things to finally go right yet right up to the very last page nothing really connects well for Sam. He’s used and abused for the majority of the story, going through one horrific problem or accident after the next and there is never the feeling that he finally “wins” and finally gets the great life he deserves. Instead he settles for something that is supposed to be good enough considering the time period and attitudes. I wanted to connect to him and feel for the problems he’s experiencing yet there is no satisfying pay off that everything works out in the end, because really it doesn’t.
This leads to my biggest problem with the story which is the epilogue. Now reader tastes will vary but I found it incredibly depressing. Not only does Alex never stand up for his desires until (literally) the last page but Alex has raised another spoiled, willful, ignorant boy. His son is nearly an exact replica of how Alex was and Alex is surrounded by the various characters that never really cared about Alex at all, just what he could do with them. So he spends his life away from Sam and with all these various people because it’s his responsibility – I’m guessing – which I guess is supposed to show that Alex has grown up. Yet all I see is once again Alex gave in to his weak personality and did exactly what everyone wanted him to do since it was the easiest path.
For all the various action that happens, the pace is somewhat slow though it does pick up noticeably in several different areas. The narrative alternates between Sam’s third person perspective and Alex’s first person, which can be somewhat jarring sometimes. Sam’s stilted way of speaking is awkward and not easy to get into a flow of reading. However I will say this without a doubt gives Sam a lot of texture and easy recognition. He’s always distinct and stands out, which is one of the good parts about the story. The writing is not exactly smooth with numerous spelling and editing mistakes. That importance will vary from reader to reader.
Ultimately this story just didn’t work for me because I didn’t care for either main character and the writing couldn’t compensate for that. Other readers may like this more if they can really connect to the main characters, although I think the ending is far from satisfying. I may be alone in my opinions but I wouldn’t recommend Perfect Score.