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.

Estelle: The Other Way Around by Sashi Kaufman

The Other Way Around by Sashi KaufmanThe Other Way Around by Sashi Kaufman ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Publisher: Lerner/Carolrhoda Lab
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: running away, road trip, new friends, parents
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Andrew is friendless and uninspired at another new school, where his mom is the headmistress. After a horrible Thanksgiving celebration with the family, he decides to escape his home and visit his grandmother. A surprise admission from his mother is extra push he needs to tag along with a group of kids, road tripping through the country, surviving on money from strangers, food from dumpsters, and a freedom that Andrew has never experienced.

One of the main things that stuck with me after I finished The Other Way Around was Andrew’s unconventional character growth.

How many people run away from their home and their school and get involved in a road trip with a couple of hippies who are surviving by performing on the streets, stalking the best dumpsters, and, once in awhile, encountering the kindness of strangers? After dealing with so much pressure from his mother and the flakiness of his dad, Andrew has no one patrolling his every move or pushing him into situations that make him feel uncomfortable.

Ah, the sweet smell of freedom.

Well, it’s not actually that sweet since no one is showering regularly and dumpsters don’t exactly smell like flowers. But for the first time, Andrew is hanging out with kids around his age and the world is open to him in a whole different way. He has the space to think about his relationship with his parents and their divorce, and finally make some choices of his own.

This dynamic in young adult is so interesting to me as a reader, because as a teenager, how much control do you have over how your parents treat you? Do you ever get that opportunity to stand up for yourself or will you constantly be dismissed because of your age and lack of life experience?

Andrew’s growing friendship with G, his attraction to Emily, and experiences on the road (this might be strange but I really loved how vivid and descriptive the chicken scene was on their farm stop) all contribute to him opening up, connecting with other people, and learning how to talk to his mom. I liked that Kaufman made Andrew work for his relationships in the van, and didn’t have him totally turn away from his home either.

While it took a little time to get into the swing of The Other Way Around, I really enjoyed this — a fresh male POV, great stops along a road trip, and bravery found in strange places.

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