You might not know it from when you first meet me–given that I am bitter, cynical, sarcastic, and hard around the edges–but I am a total romantic at heart. I was overjoyed when I discovered Kissing in America by Margo Rabb in my Amazon “You Might Also Like” feed this winter. The premise was a winner: teen girl who is obsessed with romance novels travels the country with her best friend to reunite with the man she loves. It sounded like exactly my kind of thing, so I was so thrilled to receive a digital review copy from the publisher through Edelweiss (Thank you!) in exchange for an honest review.
When I started reading Kissing in America I discovered that the story had far more depth than the premise promised. It really seemed to me like there were a few storylines threading throughout the novel, among them: 1) Eva’s relationship with Will, the dreamboy who moved to California from New York City, 2) Eva’s strained relationship with her mother following her father’s horrific death in a plane crash, and 3) Eva’s relationship to conventions of love and romance as her thoughts and opinions are influenced by her beloved romance paperbacks, the women in her life, and her own experiences.
At first I thought I was worried it would a little cluttered; how would Rabb unite all of these storylines into one cohesive narrative? But I’m happy to say I think things came together neatly and logically by the end. By far the relationship with Will was the least compelling, but I think that was kind of the point. It provided the motivation for Eva to do something drastic–enter a reality TV competition with her best friend, Annie–and travel across the country via bus. Really it was a conduit that put Eva in situations so the second and third storylines could be developed. It was really no surprise that Will turned out to be your typical shallow, self-centered jerk. Any other outcome would have betrayed Rabb’s message that sometimes romance is just a fantasy, and other (most) times it is a gritty, real, messy and painful reality.
I had to remind myself not to get frustrated with Eva for her recklessness and mooning over Will because I recognized a bit of myself in her. When I was a teen I read Nicholas Sparks novels in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade because I was too repressed and scared to be caught dead with a romance novel (though I did read my fair share of raunchy fanfic). Plus, “YA contemporary romance” wasn’t as big a genre as it is today. Over the years I’ve come to really embrace romance and enjoy it. My notions of romance and love were both complicated and simplistic. I was as confused as any other teen girl. My best friend shoved her older sister’s copy of The Rules in my hands, saying it always worked for her (and it did), but I was and am of the kind who act impulsively and foolishly in the face of love and swooning. Perhaps those formative years reading A Walk to Remember and The Notebook and watching rom-coms while eating Ben and Jerry’s ruined me because, lo and behold, here I am at 27 and I’ve never had a major boyfriend.
The teen girl in my life I’m most close with is my cousin, who is 14. She is an avid reader and falls all over herself over YA romance novels both cheesy and profound. So she is the reader I always have in mind when I think about who I would recommend a YA novel to, if anyone. And I think I would definitely recommend Rabb’s novel. I like that it straddles the line between endorsing swooning/boy craziness and rejecting it while ultimately finding that most women’s experience is somewhere in between. I truly felt like I watched Eva grow and mature. I loved that she stood up for genre fiction (a pet cause of mine), and I am happy that she reaches a stable place by the end. It also felt like a good sisterhood novel.
Overall, a fun reading experience and a satisfying novel, one I would recommend to those looking for beach reading for the summer.