Kissing in America surprised me in the best way. I picked it because I wanted a book that featured female friendship for February (to help us celebrate Galentine's Day, of course) and because I loved the premise- a girl who loves romance novels travels across the country with her best friend to see the boy of her dreams. It sounded fun.
This is a not a story about fun, romantic love.
It's about every other kind of love. Mother/daughter love, the love you have for someone you've lost, love that's changed, love between best friends, love for travel, and that embarrassing, all-encompassing first love that makes you goofy. Well, kind of idiotic.
This book was important because Eva makes big mistakes, and not everything gets put right at the last minute. I was struck how the really tense moments were centered not on her eventual reunification with Will (who I kept picturing as Dean from Gilmore Girls but I think that's just my current IRL context), but around the rifts that spring up between her and Annie, between her and her mother. The discomfort of visiting Annie's cousin Grace and the awkwardness of balancing the different parts of your life, the different friends you have in different places.
This book was not about kissing. I'm actually relieved.
Rabb did a beautiful job of creating characters who did things you didn't like without being villains. Larry wasn't an evil guy trying to insert himself into Eva's family...he was a little doofy but generally nice. Real. Irma, his mother, was wrong to rush things along and assume Eva would be excited about a wedding, but she was being kind in her own way. What Eva does to Annie, on the surface, is unforgivable, and I'm so glad that Annie was rightfully pissed, but it is such a nuanced situation, and it works out in a believable, non-bombastic way.
I am glad that Eva rode home with her mother. At a certain point, I started thinking "Oh, well now she can get together with Trent!" but again, that is not what this book is about. It's about driving home with your mother. It's about being on the beach with the most important women in your life. Trent's existence reads to me like a gentle reminder: there will be other guys, lots of people who will like you. There will be crushes and relationships and dating adventures. Now tend to your family.
The two things that made this story for me were the the pieces of poetry and the descriptions of grief. I lost my dad around the same age that Eva did, and everything was so spot on- the wanting to talk about it, the not wanting to talk about it, the shock when you realize the grief extends to other people. At one point, her mother (in a pivotal scene where they are FINALLY discussing this tragedy that is tearing them up under the surface) says, "I wanted to be strong for you...Maybe it wasn't the best way. But it was all I could manage to do." It seems like a very simple statement but the entire narrative to that point was around Eva's emotions and the ways that Eva's mother was stifling her grief and it's the first time that Eva is faced with the reality that her mother is just surviving, too. I love when they probe at their grief and Eva faces the uncomfortable fact that her remembrance is gilded- in hindsight all the negatives are weeded out and you start missing a mystical superhero, not a person. Oh my god, so perfect. I wish I read this at fourteen.
The poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay at the beginning of part four is one of my favorite poems about grief. I love the fury in the line "Time does not bring relief; you all have lied." That line echos in my head often. I had never read I Remember You by Marie Howe, but it struck me in the same lovely way. I've not often drawn to poetry, but this book made me want to read more.
So much for a short recap. I really loved this book and will definitely be buying it to add to my collection, for the poetry as much as for the plot. As March is Women's History Month, I really want our next pick to be a biography of a kick ass woman. I have only skimmed I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, which I feel is a bit of a tragedy, since every snippet or quote I hear from her resonates so deeply with me. I've also been dying to read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Camron and Shana Knizhnik, but was a little afraid it might be too heavy for me to follow. I combed through some reviews and it referred to as "breezy", and "a mashup of pop culture and serious scholarship." I couldn't decide, so I'm going to read both in March!
Talk to me. Did you read Kissing in America? Who did you like? Did you want more kissing? Are you going to read along in March?