Kissing in America by Margo Rabb
“I loved romances because when you opened the first page, you knew the story would end well.”
Since her dad died in a plane crash, Eva Roth has found solace in romance novels – 118 of them over two years, to be exact. Her mother, a professor of women’s studies, is dismayed by what she calls her daughter’s “ultimate rebellion.” But Eva isn’t reading romances to upset her mom: she’s reading them as an escape, seeking a little stability and a few happy endings in a world that no longer makes sense without her dad. Margo Rabb’s young adult novel Kissing in America is the story of Eva’s journey, literal and figurative, to come to terms with her grief and learn a few things about love.
I adore a good YA novel, and I don’t mind that a lot of YA novels are fairly typical boy-meets-girl stories. But Eva’s story doesn’t fit that mold, despite her addiction to steamy novels with lurid covers and dashing heroes. Instead, it’s a story about all kinds of love: friendship, love altered by grief, and the tight, complex bond between mothers and daughters.
The story’s action is driven (at first) by Eva’s crush on Will, who finally notices her – and even kisses her a few times – but then moves to California unexpectedly. Desperate to see him again, Eva convinces her brainy best friend, Annie, to compete on an academic quiz show in Los Angeles. The two girls embark on a cross-country road trip from New York to L.A. (via Cleveland, a ranch in rural Texas, and Tucson). Along the way, they run into people and situations that challenge their perceptions of the world.
Eva’s dad was a writer, a poet at heart, and Kissing in America is sprinkled with great poetry, from the Dylan Thomas book Eva carries around to the epigrams that open each section of the book. Many of the poets are strong women – Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe – whose thoughtful, pungent words about love will stay with both Eva and her readers. Eva’s relationship with her mother, fraught and complicated and deeply loving, is as honest a portrayal of the mother-daughter bond as I’ve ever read.
“Love is never easy or guaranteed,” a wise friend tells Eva toward the end of the book. “Real love is a leap, you know.” Kissing in America doesn’t wrap up as neatly as Eva’s beloved romances. But it’s a complex, often funny, poignant tribute to all kinds of love, and to the glory of taking that leap.
Have you read Kissing in America? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!
Link to buy Kissing in America at your local independent bookstore (we love them!) or at Indiebound by clicking here.