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Author: Margo Rabb (website | twitter)
Publisher: Harper Collins
Source/Format: ARC sent to me by Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review (thank you!)
Publication date: May 26, 2015 (yesterday!)
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | The Book Depository
“Wise, inspiring, and ultimately uplifting—not to be missed.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A hilarious, thought-provoking, wrenching, and joyful quest.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Authentic and complex…This is a smart teen’s novel.”—Booklist, starred review
Acclaimed writer Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America is “a wonderful novel about friendship, love, travel, life, hope, poetry, intelligence, and the inner lives of girls,” raves internationally bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love).
In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.
In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls “gorgeous, funny, and joyous,” readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all of its forms.
The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is not really about kissing at all. I think there are maybe three kisses total in the book. And the cover, while adorable, does not belie what’s inside.
Basically, Kissing in America is nothing like what you would expect it to be.
Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s bad. For me, KiA was SO MUCH BETTER than I expected. It’s a beautifully written, poignant tale of women and where their hearts lie. In particular, it’s about one girl, Eva Roth, who lost her father in a plane crash two years ago. Eva and her father were close, sharing a love of writing and poetry, but Eva hasn’t written a thing since he died, choosing to read romance novels by the dozen and focus on school instead. Meanwhile, Eva and her Women’s-Studies professor mother have a strained relationship, because her mother seems to have completely put her father out of her mind.
Eva falls into a romance with Will, a cool guy at school – they have a special night together, and then he suddenly moves away to California. Desperate to see him again, Eva concocts a plan with her best friend, science genius Amy, to get on a reality show that films in L.A. and travel out there by bus.
I read some reviews that commented that Eva felt a bit young with her crush and her ambition to find Will, and I have to respectfully disagree. Eva has been very carefully sheltered by her mother during the formative years of her life, and her introvertedness fits perfectly with the grief and recovery process that she’s been going through. The fact that she’s dealing with it essentially alone (as her mother is basically ignoring her own grief) makes it even more realistic to me that Eva would latch onto the idea of happily ever after and perfect moments typical of romance novels.
This is a story about a girl who craves romance, but needs unconditional love. It’s a story about taking action and finding more than what you were looking for. It’s about navigating complicated relationships and recognizing that people are more than just the stories we create about them in our minds. It’s about learning to move on while holding on tight.
If I have criticisms, they are that the book slowed down a bit for me in the middle, and that some of the fake romance novel excerpts seemed really, well, FAKE to me. As a reader of romance, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered any mass market paperback romance that had any mention of “ripe love-mounds” or “man-dew”. I know some of the descriptions were written for humor’s sake, but I felt that they were doing a bit of a disservice to the romance genre – which was strange because it went counter to one of the book’s themes of the romance novels & literary writing being able to sit together at the same table.
Still, despite those slight reservations, I read this in two sittings, and honestly, if I had had time, I would have read it in one. It was completely absorbing, a true contemporary with a fully realized cast of characters. I loved everyone in this book. I loved how real it felt, and how many mistakes were made, and how the characters just kept on trying and loving and trying again.
Pitch-Perfect Writing: Margo Rabb’s writing is alternately quirky, with weird and wonderful laughs, and then completely emotional, full of wisdom and a deep understanding of grief and how people cope.
I Want To Go To There: Road-trip YA books are my crack, but this one is different, because most of it happens on buses. There’s a different perspective to the road trip through the bus trip.
Kick-Arse Secondary Characters: I can’t even with these characters. From Janet, Eva’s aunt who teaches EXTREME sexual safety in schools, to Amy, Eva’s best friend who wants desperately to go to MIT, to Irma, Eva’s mom’s boyfriend’s mother, who is a Jew-turned-Buddhist-turned-Christian-rancher’s wife, this cast is so quirky and lovely and real.
Poetry & Literature: Not only is Eva a writer, but her aunt Lulu is a professor who wrote her thesis on Elizabeth Bishop, so this book is chock full of poetry and lines from literature. In fact, each chapter of Kissing in America begins with a line from a poem that colours the theme of the chapter – which is not in itself an unusual thing, but the pieces that Rabb chooses from are so perfectly aligned that it’s not hard to imagine that she actually built the story around them. It adds so much to the book and makes the hearts of Lit majors (like me) burst a little.
Book Theme Song:
The Final Word:
Margo Rabb has completely bowled me over with her writing and her perfectly meandering story. This is a true writer’s book: for people who love flawed, realistic characters, emotional journeys, and love itself. A subtle gem highly recommended for YA and adult contemporary fans.
Kissing in America is out in bookstores now. Are you interested in reading it? Are you into emotional reads? How about poetry or road trips? Let me know in the comments!
[…] We had a break for lunch (VERY IMPORTANT), then headed over to Margo Rabb’s line next, and in line, we met Xander (Forever Bookish) and his mom. He was very sweet and we chatted a bit about how much we loved Margo’s book, Kissing in America. […]
Great review! I’ve seen a lot of great reviews on this book, and your review just adds to my overarching desire for this novel.
So glad to hear that – I think it’s a mixed bag for a lot of people, hope you get to it and enjoy it!
A subtle YA gem? Yep, I have to read this book. They don’t happen incredibly often, but when a subtle YA gem hits, they hit hard! I can’t wait to read Kissing in America!