KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb (Amazon) (Goodreads) was so, so, SO much more than I had hoped or expected. It’s probably not even fair to say I had hopes — I don’t remember which list I saw it on or why I decided to request it from the library and even once I had it at home, I put it off because cover didn’t especially draw me in. Thinking back, the “I loved it” blurb from Elizabeth Gilbert was a bit of a “huh” and should have been a tip off that this was something really, really special. So if you didn’t already get the TLDR, the point is: it is EXCELLENT. Highly recommend.
As I’ve done with previous “reviews” (these are definitely not reviews, they’re more like stream-of-consciousness commentaries) of books, below are some of my favorite quotes from the book mashed up with my musings on why I liked this or that so much and how it made me feel.
- I don’t generally like poetry but the lines and excerpts made me *feel* things, and tempt me to actually go read some. Each section includes a bit of poetry, and each chapter title *feels* like poetry, though most are phrases or prose from that actual chapter. I just can’t emphasize enough how much I am NOT a poetry person, but how by the middle of reading this novel, the poetry really started to affect me… particularly the snippets that Will and Eva started including in their letters to each other.
- “[My mother] would’ve preferred odd piercings, full-body tattoos, or even shoplifting to what I did. I feel in love with romance novels” (4). HA. Skipping ahead a little bit, I love this explanation for why Eva likes romance novels (and I think it gets at part of why I love reading fiction/YA/contemporary so much too): “I loved romances because when you opened the first page, you knew the story would end well. Your heart wouldn’t be broken. I loved that security, that guaranteed love. Sure, a minor, usually unlikable character might drop dead from typhus or consumption or starve to death in the brig, but bad things were only temporary in these books. By the end, the hero and heroine would be ecstatically in love, enormously happy. / In real life, you never knew the ending. I hated that” (51-52). Me too Eva, me too. And then at the very end of the book (SPOILERS!) — this broke my heart: “It didn’t make sense. I thought: we’re not in a romance novel. The words fell into my head. In a romance novel, if a person said, Sometimes people meet at the wrong time on page 50, then they’d still get married by page 250. They’d still have their happy ending” (335). – Heartbreak.
- “…sometimes I glance in the window and see them. Girls and their dads doing the tiniest most boring things like sharing chicken wings (and I don’t even like chicken wings), and I watch them through the window, wanting to soak up all this fatherness, this luxurious fatherness they don’t even appreciate. Usually they’re not even talking to their dads, they’re texting or playing a video game in their laps. Don’t they know? I want to shake them. Don’t they know how lucky they are to sit in the KFC with their fathers?” (20) That one shot straight to the heart… a reminder to be thankful, and one of many passages that really raised volumes of empathy and pain on behalf of Eva. And spoiler, but the ugly cries really started flowing during that last conversation between Eva and her mom: Eva: “‘We never talk about him.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Daddy.'” (373) – UGLY CRIES EVERYWHERE. And here’s another one: “My mom said ‘I love you’ every night… like an item on a to-do list. My dad used to say it with a soft voice and a kiss to the head, and I told my mom that once: ‘Daddy said I love you differently.’ She looked stricken. She told me she had a headache and she went to bed.” (25) While I felt for Eva, I actually also empathized a lot with her mom… who really sucked at dealing with her grief from her daughter’s perspective, but clearly also had a lot of issues and Margo (can I just call her Margo? the author) built her character with her a lot of layers and complexity, like a real person, to the point where I sympathized with her. Who am I to judge this woman for how the loss of the love of her life breaks and shatters her? Who’s to say I’d do any better?
- On a lighter note: the nicknames that Annie and Eva and Will come up with for the stuff and adults in their life are hilarious — Jerkface for Will’s dad, Benign Fungus for Larry, even Crapphone for her not-smartphone cellphone… maybe to some it’s cheesy, but to me, it seems authenticly teenager.
- I love Annie! I love that she’s quirky and a genius and most of all that she’s a REAL, steadfast friend… who is in some ways an Asian stereotype genius daughter, but also one who has to deal with the embarrassment of her family’s humble beginnings and her sisters NOT being the typical Asian AP kids. She’s also a SUPER straight talker–when Eva drafts a text message and hems and haws about the wording, Annie says: “Send it or I’m going to kill you” (69) – what a friend! And then even in the more serious times, the best friends are the ones that even when you mess up, they’ll be there. “I lay next to her on the bed. We were quiet for a long time as we stared at the ceiling, just as we had all over the country. There’s a thing in poetry called the caesura–a pause between words, a silence. I thought: That’s what real friendship is, too. Someone you can be quiet with. Someone who understands your mistakes and forgives you” (365).
- I had no idea this would be a road trip story and I LOVEEEEE road trip stories! (Shout out to Morgan Matson, who writes the best road trip stories). While not necessarily the point or focus, you can see how each stop (and getting out of their hometown) opens their eyes and brings on new revelations.
- Larry, while the Benign Fungus (snicker), was surprisingly insightful about all of their worries about leaving New York: “Some people would think it’s odd that New Yorkers are this worried about leaving the city. Most people are afraid when they come to New York City” (135). And you know what, as a potential stepfather character, he seemed pretty harmless and, well, yes, benign.
- Aunt Jackie, oh what a fun character too! How she handled her fiance cheating on her at age 28: “Janet got a partial refund on the reception hall and the caterer, and she returned all the gifts. The dress was not returnable. It had been shredded and sent to Sam in a cardboard box.” (155) and how she started showing the girls gonorrhea pictures, I seriously spit out laughing. Annie’s response: “I’m staying a virgin until I die. Did you see that eyeball?” (160). But, I also love that even as a teen, Eva can read her aunt: “…it occurred to me that Janet was afraid. She was afraid of germs and diseases and sex and heartbreak, of her broken engagement, her old messy love.” (162) and even this: “I often thought Janet would be happy if she could round up all boys and men and corral them into a man zoo, where they’d be caged, allowed a few visitors, and have scraps of meat flung at them every few hours” (228) HA.
- First of all, cowboy romances sound hilariously awesome. Second of all, real life cowboys and ranch living sounds even more awesome — like when Janet asks about an alarm system on the ranch, “Irma pointed across the hallway railing toward the open living room, at the shotgun hanging above the fireplace” (223) – heehee, wild wild west.
*The depiction of adult romance thru Eva’s mom and Larry, and Larry’s mom and her series of husbands, and even Will’s parents struggles… they were so refreshingly REAL and sometimes uncomfortably so, but in a way that felt authentic.
- Amen to Lulu’s response to Annie’s question: “‘Is there any problem that can’t be solved with a book?’ ‘Nope,’ Lulu said, and smiled.” (279)
- And last but not least, Will. Spoilers! I didn’t love him (you could tell he was kind of flighty, despite mostly being a good guy) but I mostly love him as a device for Eva to grow and feel and realize the differences between real life and her beloved romance novels. He was ultimately a catalyst, setting in motion so, so much more for her.