Based on the title and cover alone, I had to read this book. I read a brief review online of Kissing in America a while back, and had to check it out. After finally getting it from the library, I finished it over Christmas break and absolutely loved it. 16 year old Eva is the main character of the story. She lives with her mother in New York City, her mother is a committed feminist and college professor, who seems perpetually busy lecturing, meeting with students, and grading papers. Theirs is a strained relationship – she’s a busy single mother, and Eva is a teenager who has a hard time talking to her mother. They are both haunted by a tragedy though, which makes their relationship even more troubled, her father was killed in a plane crash that remains an unsolved mystery.
Because of the accident, and also because she’s a single mom, Eva’s mom is overprotective, overbearing, and overwhelmed. It’s been two years since the accident, and even though it’s become the thing that defines them, they rarely talk about it. Against all of her mother’s presence and, influence, she is a devoted romance fan fanatic – reading books by the hundreds. It was the only thing that seemed to bring joy in her life, until she met Will.
Will seems sweet and understanding, and she shares more truth with him than anyone else in her life. At first she lies about her father’s death, when he asks about his absence, and she’s used to doing that – just to avoid having to talk about it. She eventually tells him the truth, and he seems to understand, as he has lost someone in his life too. It’s because of his loss that he’s forced to move to California to start his senior year of high school with his dad that he hadn’t seen in years. It breaks them up, and it breaks her apart.
She and her best friend devise a plan to get to California during the summer, right before their senior year. Annie is set to be their class’s valedictorian, and auditions to be on a quiz show called The Smartest Girl in America. The show is taped in Hollywood, and Eva goes along with Annie as her guest. It is the trip of a lifetime – traveling across the country by bus, they stop in some really interesting places. Because Eva and her Mom refuse to fly, and being New Yorkers they don’t drive, the bus is one of their only options.
It was such a sweet story – even though the story of Eva and her mother center around her father’s death. There is so much hurt – but there is also healing. This trip helps Eva find out about herself, gives them distance and breathing room that they had never had. It’s honest in the way the relationship between Eva and her mother is portrayed, but still hopeful. I really enjoyed reading this book, and although there was very little “kissing” involved, there was all kinds of love.