Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

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Cures for Heartbreak: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo RabbCures For Heartbreak (2007) by Margo Rabb deals with the subject of loss throughout the novel, as its title may suggest. Set in 1991 in Queens, the story revolves around Mia, her sister Alex, and their father. Semi-biographical, the novel chronicles the family’s grieving process when Mia’s mother (Greta) is admitted to the hospital with a stomachache and dies twelve days later from advanced melanoma.

The most surprising thing about the novel is how vivid Rabb’s imagery is throughout. Rabb’s simple language and conversational tone make the story and characters come alive on the page. Mia’s loss is palpable throughout her narration: “My father handed [the death certificate] to him and recounted the details about our mother–a sudden death, twelve days after the diagnosis; no, no one expected it he was sorry too. Forms were filled out. Then Manny invited us to view the coffins.” Rather than sympathizing with Mia in an abstract way, readers are completely drawn into the story. It feels like the novel is describing the reader’s personal experiences and talking about their own loss instead of the characters’.

Another dimension is added to the novel because Mia’s family is Jewish, her mother arriving in the USA as a baby with her parents in 1939 before America closed its borders to refugee Jews. Rabb uses these close memories of World War Two and the Holocaust to examine Mia’s loss in a larger context. The story is incredibly sad, obviously, but also beautiful. It’s comforting to see the family try to move forward. Rabb’s level of realism is amazing–I felt like I was reading stories from my own life, the details were that vivid.

This novel actually feels more like a series of inter-connected short stories. The plot moves through funeral preparations, friendship, an engagement, and another funeral as Mia’s wayward family tries to reconfigure itself without Greta’s grounding presence. And eventually the family does figure it out. When the novel ends it is clear that the situation is not ideal, can’t be ideal, but that it does get easier to keep going. Because, as Rabb suggests, the most important thing is to keep going in the face of loss. Rather than stay with the grieving process, Rabb shows that losing someone is never the end of a relationship. It’s just a reason to value memories even more.

Possible Pairings: Before I Die by Jenny Downham, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin