book review of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb • Magan Reviews

book review of Kissing in America by Margo RabbKISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb [web | tweet]
Published by Harper Teen on May 26, 2015
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: first love, parental loss, airplane crash, detached mothers

Summary: Not many things have gone right for Eva, but when she meets Will and they connect over personal losses they’ve both suffered through, she feels like she’s finally piecing herself back together again. Until Will has to move across the country and she’s not sure how or when she’ll ever see him again.

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Kissing in America was my in-flight book of choice a few weeks ago. Usually I do a little bit of reading about the book before I jump right in, but I’d momentarily forgotten to download my review books to my kindle so I quickly did that moments before I was told to temporarily turn off my devices. I hadn’t even read the summary when I began, and I’m pretty sure that made reading this book even more special – I had no expectations.

Eva is a pretty typical teenager — she struggles with fitting in, is angered by how detached her mom can be one moment and how suffocating she feels the next, and has one solid best friend, Annie. But there’s something that sets Eva apart, too. Her father died two years ago in an airplane crash. The piqued curiosity she received when telling people about his death infuriated her so much she began to tell people he died peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack. (Meanwhile her mother never, ever mentions him and discarded any trace of him weeks after he died.)

When she begins tutoring Will by proofing his college essays and English papers, they connect over their personal tragedies. His younger brother died as an infant and his mother has never recovered from the loss. As Eva’s adoration for Will grows, she can’t lie to him anymore about her dad’s death. She spills the truth to him and this bonds them even more; she loves that she can be honest about all of these pieces of her no one except Annie knows: how she secretly reads messages in a forum for the surviving family members of the airplane crash or how she hoarded some of her dad’s belongings before her mother could toss them out. Their love for reading and poetry, their losses, and their easy banter bind Will and Eva together over the course of the school year.

Just when things have hit their stride, Will’s forced to move to California. How will these two ever reunite (especially considering she could never fly there)? Kissing in America is a strong tale about first love, healing, heartbreak, parental struggles, not always seeing eye-to-eye, and best friendship stress when you suck at life and let someone down. Eva and Annie find a way to road trip to CA by entering in a game show competition to find the Smartest Girl in America. Annie is a brilliant girl destined for MIT, but she’s overwhelmed by the cost of it and knows her parents couldn’t afford it. This could be her ticket to her dreams.

With much hesitation and a few embarrassing rules in place, Annie and Eva are allowed to road trip from New York to Los Angeles. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book. They meet a crazy bus thief, a few Texas cowboys (who were severely over-exaggerated, but still so fun), and get some solid advice from Eva’s mom’s best friend Lulu. There were moments of such extreme realness in Kissing in America that made me feel like an eavesdropper/stalker along for the bus trip.

The remainder of Kissing in America needs to be experienced by you and I should stop babbling on. (But believe me I could chat forever about this one.) It made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes, made me think about the type of mother I hope to be, and even frightened me a little bit as the details of her father’s plane crash were revealed. It’s one of those books that gives you a whole lot of story in the best and simplest of ways, with characters you love, and a great sadness when it’s all over.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Magan: Take Me On by Katie McGarry

book cover for Take Me On by Katie McGarry

Take Me On by Katie McGarry (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: Pushing the Limits // Dare You To // Crash Into You
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Pages: 544
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: mixed martial arts, job loss, family injuries, fighting and kickboxing
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)

Summary: After swearing she’d never date a fighter again, Haley finds herself in a “relationship” with West, the new guy at school, as she teaches him to become a mix martial arts fighter. She must teach him how to fight or else she puts her cousin and brother’s lives at risk of ongoing, life-threatening fights with her ex-boyfriend.

Take Me On by Katie McGarry was full of all the elements I felt were strengths in Pushing the Limits — great witty banter between Haley and West, real life complications and issues, an interesting setting (a gym with a lot of emphasis on kickboxing and mixed martial arts), and fantastic burning chemistry.

But there were also some setbacks for me, too. It took quite a long time for me to feel like the story was progressing because the tension and constant back and forth dance between Haley and West’s emotions took quite a long time to level out. I desperately wanted them to make a decision. Could Haley accept that West was nothing like her ex-boyfriend and revoke her decision to never date another fighter? Could West settle down and stop feeling like the world was against him?

Haley’s ex brought out the absolute worst side of her and turned her kickboxing passion into something she wanted nothing to do with. Her deteriorating home life leaves Haley constantly feeling like a lesser version of herself. She walks on eggshells around her uncle who disrespects women (and people in general) in the most awful ways. She’s witnessing her father spiral out of control while desperately wanting him to get his act together and protect her. Even one of her closest friends, her grandfather, doesn’t know exactly what Haley’s gone through; she’s completely secluded herself and withdrawn.

West’s home life is the exact opposite of Haley’s by comparison — he has everything money can buy, lives in a sprawling mansion, and attends one of the best private schools. But when you look beyond all the shiny material things, you see that West’s mother is just as detached as Haley’s father, that his father’s expectations are unnecessarily high, and his sister is in the hospital for something he blames himself for.

Seeing these two broken individuals come together as they figure out how to heal and move past their struggles was probably my favorite part of Take Me On. I loved the symbolism behind the fighting that Haley was teaching West to do (and hoped that she would find worth in herself and start fighting for herself, too). Sometimes I felt like the story was dragging along more slowly than would have been ideal, making the whole book feel a little bit too lengthy. I can understand how in a real-world setting, people with West and Haley’s struggles wouldn’t immediately be able to bypass them and embrace the love being extended to them.

Haley and West’s story was an enjoyable experience that took me into another world and really made my day-to-day issues seem meager by comparison. Katie McGarry did a great job branching out to explore this new fighting dynamic and continues to impress with her ability to heal two broken characters.

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Magan: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

sequel to Just One Day by Gayle FormanJust One Year (Just One Day #2) by Gayle Forman
Other Books Reviewed in This Series: Just One Day
Publication Date: October 10, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Falling in Love, Traveling the World, Lost Love, Theater and Acting
Format Read: ARC borrowed from Lena at Addicted 2 Novels

Summary: After a day spent with Allyson (also known as Lulu), Willem is on the search for her. Their chance encounter has changed his life, and he desperately wants to find her.

After finishing Just One Day, I couldn’t help but feel this sense of wonderment. The places Willem and Allyson visited. Their adventures… and even their misadventures. It left me yearning to travel more. And then there was that ending. Let’s just be honest and say that it shocked us all. Was Willem the boy we had fallen in love with? Who was this boy? And why, oh, why must Gayle Forman torture us and make us wait to find out what happened?

Just One Year is told from Willem’s perspective this go-around. With all of my hesitations about his character, I was left feeling pretty unsure about wanting to know him better. I needed Allyson to give him a good one-two-punch and knock some major sense into him. Willem’s story begins the day he and Allyson are separated — oh, you know, the day that our hearts all swooned and we wanted to break into buildings with boys we met the day before. He recalls moments with Lulu (the only name he ever knew her by) and we get to see what he was thinking and feeling as they spent their day together. (Le sigh.)

Most important to me were the details of WHY he left her alone, stranded, what happened, and how he spent his year. Was Willem searching for Lulu like she was searching for him? We’re led to believe he’s a bit of a playboy, but is it true? Does he pine for her (maybe a little less melodramatically), or does he just move on with his life? 

Just One Day was about Allyson’s growth and transformation, just as much as Just One Year is about Willem’s maturity and coming to terms with the loss of his father and peace-making with his mother. He and his mom aren’t on good terms after the death of his father. He’s become lost, a wanderer. Above all else, I love that Forman doesn’t just focus on the reunion of Willem and Allyson (though heck yes that’s the top reason I was breezing through the pages). Willem’s story is a journey, quite literally the majority of the time as he traipses around the globe … one that will have you glued to the pages.

Without fail, Forman’s writing continues to be top-notch. She beautifully enters the mind of a young male who can sometimes be easily distracted and quickly discouraged. She impeccably describes each of the locations Willem ventures to and will, without doubt, make you wish you could hop on the next flight out from your local airport.

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