In Kissing in America, Margo Rabb has put a new twist on the road-trip story, growing up story and realistic fiction story. Eva Roth’s father died when his plane crashed into the ocean two years ago. No bodies were recovered. Eva and her mother went to counseling and have joined a chat room about the accident. But it’s almost like her mother has forgotten her father: she’s thrown out his belongings and never talks about him. (Eva managed to salvage a few of his possessions.) To numb the pain, Eva’s fills up her time reading mindless romance novels. Even though she knows real love isn’t like the books, it gives her hope.
Towards the end of her junior year in high school Eva meets Will and romance starts to bloom, just like in her romance novels. However, his divorced mother is in bad financial straits and they’re forced to vacate their apartment. She moves into the one bedroom apartment of her friend and Will decides he’s better off living in California with his father. After a sad goodbye, Eva is now wondering how to get from Queens, NY to Los Angeles to visit her true love.
When she hears about a televised contest The Smartest Girl in America, she convinces her genius friend, Annie, that they should enter–actually Annie should enter and Eva be her ‘go to’ companion. The winner will receive a $200,000 scholarship and Annie desperately wants to go to MIT. Of course, the program will be conducted in Los Angeles.
Kissing in America follows Annie and Eva on their two-week cross country bus trip, stopping at friends and relatives in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona along the way. Annie and Eva are a study in contrasts, the former postponing love until college while Eva is desperate for it, possibly to provide something her mother seems incapable of providing. But of course there is more than meets the eye in the various adult characters and Eva learns this through her interactions with family and friends.
This is the second book recently where something terrible happens and parents either over react by becoming overly protective and/or shut down totally, depriving their children of the love and attention they want and need. It is also the case where the children are too shy or insecure to say what they feel, to open the dialogue that might get a parent/child relationship back on track.
Each major section of the book starts with a poem. And Ms. Rabb entices readers with this (which is really just a come on since there are very few other romance novel quotes that are worthy of reprinting):
“Sir Richard’s chest sparkled with man-dew as he whispered “Lilith, it may hurt you when I burst they womanhood.” “Hurt me,” Lilith breathed. Her rosy domes undulated like the sea as he joined her in a love that vanquished every sorrow known on earth.”
I’m not going to tell you that you can’t predict what’s going to happen because that would be a lie. Much of what happens in the end you can predict in the beginning. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”. If it’s any indication, I stayed up until 12:30 AM to finish the book, so it must have been an enjoyable journey.