The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor ( web )
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Harper/Katherine Tegen Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family, family obligations/traditions, unhealthy relationships, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: Bettina comes from a very protective family (her father uber embraces their Green traditions) but manages to get her dad to approve of Brady, a basketball player at school who she falls into a sweet summer romance with. Once school starts, Brady’s popularity rises and he’s not who he was during that summer. Bettina feels a little stuck between her father’s expectations and Brady’s demands. When she meets “Cowboy” — a guy working at an auto shop — a friendship that could never be something more blossoms. In this space, she can be herself. Will she ever get to a point she can do that in her real life?
The Things You Kiss Goodbye features lovely prose that managed to leave this reader heartbroken but also hopeful.
For me, the most standout part of this novel were the family dynamics. Bettina’s family is Greek, and her parents subscribe to old school traditions — keep Bettina as close as they can, do not do not give her freedom. (In fact, B’s younger brothers are allowed to do more than she is.) Surprisingly, Bettina’s dad — Bampas — is won over by the polite and sweet, Brady, a boy from B’s school. Suddenly, B has the freedom to go out with her boyfriend and this is the summer she first falls in love.
This is a huge deal. Because of Bampa’s controlling nature, Bettina has quit ballet (something she loved) and with her best girlfriend moving away, this is the first time in a long time that B gets to hang out with other people her age and gain some kind of social life. But Brady’s friends never really warm up to her (she’s too weird for them… sigh) so it’s basically her and Brady — basking in their love and passion for one another. When school starts up again, Brady is suddenly more popular than he’s ever been and little by little, his personality changes. HE also becomes demanding and thinks belittling Bettina is cute and not totally awful.
B is naturally torn. Bampas has been open with his belief that B is too immature for a relationship and here she is, aware that she is in an unhealthy one. An unhealthy one that gets her out of the house. She can’t figure out what to do but she does find solace in her art and also a growing friendship with an older guy she nicknames “Cowboy” who works at the auto-shop near her school. As the reader, we know B is into Cowboy. She brings him coffee, they talk about everything she can’t talk about with Brady and her parents… there’s an intimacy between them that becomes such an important part of her everyday life.
What I like about this is I was never sure if Cowboy thought of her as a cute friend who happened to be a high school student or he actually felt something. I also never knew if and when Brady and B would break up. If B would ever get to a point where she would confide in her parents, forge a connection with them. There are many questions swirling around The Things You Kiss Goodbye, which means there are unexpected surprises too — the realizations you come to about your parent’s marriage, what you are capable of, and the gem of a friend you never thought you would make.
The Things You Kiss Goodbye is quiet and contemplative with vivid detail and memorable characters (the vivacious family friend named Regina); it’s about forgiveness and standing up for yourself and meeting your parents halfway. It’s a story where B is forced to grow up in ways that tug at your heartstrings but only make her relationships with her family, her friends, and herself that much stronger.
Words of advice: don’t rush through this one! Every word is worth savoring.