Book Review: Gift Guide 2015: Fiction by Austin Authors

Rabb's second YA novel features more than one love story, and they're all worth telling

Gift Guide 2015: Fiction by Austin Authors

If, as one character puts it in Margo Rabb's second novel for young adults, "every poem is a love poem," then arguably every YA story is a love story. This one is canny enough to tease kissing in the title, but it's the "in America" part that's more tantalizing. Rabb's coming-of-age story has a sweep as wide as the star-spangled sky, touching on poetry, grief, friendship, feminism, Harlequin romances, Cincinnati chili, and, oh yeah, touching (strictly PG-13!).

Two years after her father's sudden death, 16-year-old Eva, Queens-born and -bred, numbs her pain and frequent panic attacks with the sweet escapism of romance paperbacks. She and her brainiac best friend Annie get a good giggle out of the books' overwrought descriptions of love and sex ("manroot" warrants a guffaw), but it isn't until Eva befriends Will, an older classmate wading through his own grief, that the idea of love stops being page-bound and becomes something tangible.

When Will moves to California before they can solidify their relationship status, Eva hops a Greyhound with Annie to find out, zagging to Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona along the way. Just as Eva blossoms on the road, under the influence of new experiences and people, the book opens up, too. Rabb's snapshots of America are witty and perceptive and appropriately poetic for a narrative so consumed with the comforts of poetry and the personal risk that comes from trying to express one's self creatively. (Eva is a budding poet.) What's most striking is Rabb's compassion for her characters. Without ever losing Eva's perspective, Rabb presents an empathetic, rounded portrait of so many women and girls who are influential in her life. There's not just one love story in Kissing in America, there are many – between mothers and daughters and lifelong best friends – and they're all stories worth telling.

Kissing in America

by Margo Rabb
HarperCollins, 400 pp., $17.99
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YA fiction, Margo Rabb, Gift Guide 2015

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