Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Title: Kissing in America
Author: Margo Rabb
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published Date: 26 May 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository

I received this book through NetGalley from Penguin Teen Australia for review.

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.
(summary from Goodreads)

At it's heart, Kissing in America is a beautiful story of loss, of friendship, and of the intricacies of love, but it suffers from a naive protagonist and misconstrued expectations.

The misconstrued expectations is mostly my fault. I had it in my head that this book was a romance, and while in a sense it has romance elements, not in any way I was expecting - or hoping for. The romance is pretty much that Eva is obsessed with romance novels and fantasises about overly exaggerated romantic encounters. Not hard to see why, considering the books she's reading. In all my years loving romance novels even I haven't read anything quite as bad as Eva! For a book titled Kissing in America I was certainly expecting more actual kissing to be involved, that's for sure. I admit to having mixed emotions regarding this book. If I hadn't gone in with these expectations, I would've loved it a lot more, because the topics Rabb does tackle are heartfelt and real. I guess I'm a little like Eva right now in that my judgement has been clouded by romantic fancy! The thing is though, it became clear pretty quickly where the romance between Eva and Will was headed. Will rang all the warning bells with his self-involved douchery, after all. So while not what I hoped for, Rabb doesn't exactly blindside in terms of the romance.

I can't say I'm Eva's biggest fan. This would be my greatest disappointment with Kissing in America, that I found myself only tolerating Eva. I kept having to remind myself she was 16 because she was so silly and immature. When it came to Eva's dealing with the death of her father, Rabb knocked it out of the ball park. That loss and the emotion evoked was honest. But the rest of the time I found myself rolling my eyes and wanting to tell Eva to grow up. Her sheer naivete and shock at how the 'real world' works - or doesn't work out the way she wished - was a little too much sometimes.

Everything else about Kissing in America? Worked like a charm. I adored Rabb's secondary characters, each individual and, let's face it, a tad quirky. The relationships throughout Kissing in America are stellar. With her head stuck in her fantasies Eva has missed a lot and taken the rest for granted, so her quest teaches her not only about herself but those around her. There's an authenticity to these relationships that is charming. Too often romantic love is idealised as the be all end all, so when a novel illustrates love in its many forms I find joy and inspiration in it. That can be said for Kissing in America. The mending of Eva's relationship with her mother, their dealing with their loss together, finally, is touching. There's a hopefulness to this book that resonates.

It may not be quite what I was expecting, and Eva often too silly to take seriously, but Kissing in America is a solid contemporary and coming of age story. It has a message that ultimately carries depth and is uplifting.



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