The title: Kissing in America
The author: Margo Rabb
Publication: Harper, 2015
Got it from: The library
It's no big secret that I am drawn to stories about women like me, but rare is the YA book that captures - I mean truly captures - what it felt like to be a teenager. Particularly a sensitive, romantic one. And that's just what the heroine of Kissing in America, 16-year-old New Yorker Eva Roth, is. She's a romantic in a way that no one - not her workaholic mother, or her genius best friend Annie, or any other of her friends and teachers - gets. Her father, a fellow poetry lover, did get it, but he died in a plane crash two years earlier, leaving Eva detached and isolated under the weight of her grief. To cope with the pain, Eva turns to romance novels and their promise of happy endings. Then she meets Will, and in him Eva finds someone who finally understands her feelings. Will reawakens Eva's love of writing and poetry, and she naturally falls head over heels in love with him. When he moves to L.A., Eva convinces her friend Annie to compete on the show Smartest Girl in America so she can take a road trip and see him.
I was expecting to read a book about a girl who reads romance novels. I was not expecting to read a book about the nature and heartache of grief, or that the novel would have no easy answers. It's easy to see why Eva turns to romance novels to feed that side of herself she's desperately missing, and it's easy to see why Will, who shares so many of her feelings, is so attractive to her. This novel also gets the incredibly complex and overwhelming experience of what it's like to be a teenage girl in love for the first time, and why those feelings help you cope with the scariness of growing up.
Even though the story had heavy moments, there were some lighter and funny touches, like Eva's paranoid and germophobe aunt who joins them on their trip. My only disappointment was that the author seems to have an outdated view of romance novels. The ones Eva reads seem to be of the cheesy old school type, not the newer, better ones a real teenager nowadays would read. The book falls just short of making the connection between romance as comfort and romance as mental training ground for real relationships. Instead it goes for the cheap, easy stereotypes of barbaric alpha heroes and unrealistic stories.
In terms of character, I don't think I've ever read a YA heroine I've loved more than Eva. She's smart and funny and vulnerable and strong all at once. It's a refreshing change from so many of the current selfish, whiny YA heroines. I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and give her a big hug and tell her everything was going to be okay. And even though there was no big, happy ending, there was a hopeful one. You knew that in the end, the girl was going to be alright.