posted at Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 at 8:00 AM | Reviews, Young Adult
I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.26 Kisses by Anna Michels
Published by Simon Pulse on May 24, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Amazon • The Book Depository
Kasie West meets Morgan Matson in this hilarious and heartwarming debut about a girl’s summer mission to get over her ex-boyfriend by kissing her way through the alphabet.
Getting dumped by her boyfriend is not how Veda planned on starting her summer. When Mark makes it clear that it’s over between them, Veda is heartbroken and humiliated—but, more importantly, she’s inspired. So she sets out on the love quest of a lifetime: use the summer to forget about Mark, to move on, and move up. All she has to do is kiss twenty-six boys with twenty-six different names—one for each letter of the alphabet.
From the top of the Ferris wheel at her hometown carnival to the sandy dunes of Lake Michigan, Veda takes every opportunity she can to add kisses (and boys) to her list, and soon the break-up doesn’t sting quite as much. But just when Veda thinks she has the whole kissing thing figured out, she meets someone who turns her world upside down.
If there’s a cute-sounding YA contemporary romance on EW or NG, I am going to request. This is a truth only slightly less well-known than me of good fortune being in want of wives, okay. 26 Kisses sounded totally awesome to me. Sure, there are lots of ways this slightly odd kissing challenge book could go wrong, but I could not resist a kissing challenge book. Also, I in no way expected things to go this wrong.
Before I get into the rant that this review will soon become, I want to talk about the elements of 26 Kisses that did work for me, few though they were. Michels does have the ability to write cute banter and attraction. The first half of the book has a couple of nice kiss scenes, and Vee has good chemistry with a couple of the guys, when she initially actually wants to kiss them and they want to kiss her back. Her chemistry with her love interest Killian is especially good. Killian’s completely amazing. He and Vee could have been a great ship, but, yeah, that’s not going to happen.
The kissing challenge premise could have worked, but it goes wrong in a number of ways right from the start. It gets off to a bad beginning when the idea comes from Vee’s best friend Mel after Vee happens to make out with a dude named Adam and then mentions a kiss on the head from her father, Barry. Vee doesn’t have much interest in kissing a guy for each letter of the alphabet at all, and she feels a bit bullied into it. She does agree, but it’s an awkward start that pretty accurately sets the tone for the shitshow that’s to come.
Then, there’s the set up of the challenge. Ostensibly, the point of the A to Z kissing challenge is for Vee to get over her ex, Mark (after two years of dating, he dumped her after graduation so he wouldn’t be burdened with a girlfriend going off to college). If that’s the goal, then why does a kiss on the head from her father count? In what way will that help her recover from a hard break up? How will kissing some stranger’s jacket help? (Yeah, that happens and gets counted.) There’s some other messed up shit here, which I’ll address later, but even the non-problematic stuff is weird.
Like, literally, the whole point of this is for her to kiss more guys so she’ll see that Mark isn’t the only guy who can lay on the smooches like whoa. Why even bother with this challenge if many of the letters are going to be kisses to or from family members (not on the lips, but counting and rating them like the rest of the kisses really fucking grosses me out) or from a dog? The way this challenge has been set up makes absolutely zero sense for the proposed goal.
Then, there’s the fact that so much of the drama is really predictable and doesn’t fit the characters. Early on, Vee meets the aforementioned adorable Killian. By halfway through the book, they both like each other and he’s making very clear moves to enter a relationship, but Vee, despite hating the challenge at basically every point, refuses to fucking give it up for reasons that are never clear.
Even this maybe could have been handled well, but it isn’t. Vee, for example, isn’t just reeling from Mark’s cruel dumping; she’s also still reeling from her parents’ divorce five years before. Her father announcing an impending news with her step-family could have been a believable catalyst for fear of people leaving, but that’s not the angle that 26 Kisses takes. Instead, Vee just clings to this challenge that routinely makes her feel like shit about herself, claiming that it means something more, a something that’s completely unclear to the reader.
Every inevitable fight happens and turns out to be worse than I would have expected. Killian’s obviously hurt when she tells him she wants to be more than friends but that she wants to kiss thirteen more people first. He’s mad and sad, but he quickly rallies, decides she means enough to him that he’s willing to support her, and tries to come up with a game plan to help her finish quickly. Vee GETS MAD AT HIM FOR TRYING TO FORCE HER INTO A RELATIONSHIP SHE SAID SHE WANTED. He ends up apologizing over and over for this, eventually getting her back with a grand gesture. She does not apologize; the closest she gets is thinking that she wished she hadn’t been quite so mean that night. Basically, Killian’s a darling, and Vee’s a jerk.
Best friend Mel and other best friend I’ve not mentioned yet, Seth, have started obviously having feelings for each other. Vee, despite having no romantic interest in Seth, feels jealous that he now has a crush on Mel, because FIVE YEARS AGO, he had a crush on Vee. Of course, because this book is the worst Seth ends up doubting whether he’s over Vee, she kisses him for the challenge, Mel sees, and drama fight waaaaah. It’s cool though. Seth and Mel both show up to cheer her on in her half marathon and everything’s really cool, even without her half-hearted apology. There’s also a great awkward moment where they show up, clearly together, and Seth’s trying so hard to be convincing about not being remotely drawn to Vee anymore. Once again, this resolves without Vee learning anything or modifying her behavior.
Basically, the determination to finish the kissing challenge (which she ultimately does in a non-creepy but pointless way with Killian’s help post-grand gesture) and the absolutely ludicrous and shitty “love triangle” with Seth and Mel seem to make the book long enough. To fill the book out, it could instead have allowed Killian and Vee to build a real relationship and let Vee actually resolve her issues with her father.
There’s so much potential in Vee’s tension with her father. Michel sets up an interesting dynamic with the step-mother, who is clearly going through a mental health thing (seems like agoraphobia or social anxiety), but it’s barely addressed. In the end, Vee suddenly goes from pissed as fuck that her dad’s moving across the country without warning to totally accepting. They have a little conversation in which her dad apologizes and she assures him that she does care, and that’s that. Everything’s perfect even though no one did or learned anything whatsoever. The character arcs in this book are fucking awful because they are fucking nonexistent.
Slut-shaming runs rampant in 26 Kisses, almost entirely in the form of the word “slut,” though there’s a “ho” thrown in for good measure. Vee doesn’t really think about it until her little brother informs her that word’s getting out and he’s upset to be thought of as the little brother of a slut. Typically, the point of this would ultimately be for the heroine to learn that slut-shaming is bullshit. Here’s her big lesson she learns on slut-shaming.
At least, I haven’t done anything that qualifies me as a slut—and even if I had, it’s not like it would be anyone’s business but my own.
After this point, there’s another reference to “slutdom,” probably because her grand realization and self-acceptance is that there are sluts, but it’s rude to point it out to others. But apparently to Vee, slut-shaming yourself is totally a fabulous idea and should be done. This is so fucking offensive that I would probably throw this book in the trash if I had a physical copy.
In addition to the rampant slut-shaming, there were a couple of other things in this book that were offensively uncomfortable. There were a couple of insulting references to wheelchairs apropos of nothing. Vee thinks, upon seeing her grandfather in a wheelchair that it “takes that illusion of power away,” making him seem “withered.” Additionally, the grandfather turns out to be able to walk without one, and he has some choice thoughts on wheelchairs as well.
“I don’t actually ride in that cursed thing.” Grandpa gives it a look of pure disgust. “But it’s a hell of a lot more comfortable to sit in than those folding chairs.”
It’s such bullshit that this ableism is just thrown in for the hell of it. There was absolutely no reason to get into this. Disgust for wheelchairs is there just for shits and giggles.
Then, there are the parts of the kissing challenge that made me downright uncomfortable (even more than rating kisses with family members and counting them towards this). This book has consent problems. Twice in this book, Vee kisses guys without building a moment, guys who have expressed zero interest in being kissed by her. In one instance, Mel and Vee show up at the kid’s house, Vee comes up, kisses him on the lips, and then she runs away and leaves. This is super creepy and not okay.
Later, she kisses a rising sophomore (she’s a rising senior) from Debate club unexpectedly after driving him home. He ends up coming out to her as a result. I am so deeply uncomfortable with her doing this to accomplish this kissing challenge. Ask, and maybe they’d do it, but don’t just jump them. How the fuck would you feel, Vee? If this was done by a male character to a female character, there’s no way it would be considered acceptable.
The third kiss that really bothered me was the most puzzling and out of place scene in the book. While the rest of the book is fluffy and cutesy (even when it’s being absolutely horrid), there’s this one scene that goes dark and creepy, with language coded like she’s about to be sexually assaulted. She’s at a park, by the dark creepy bathrooms alone with this guy she does not know, drunk to the point of disorientation and swaying. She does consent to making out with this guy, because his name starts with the letter T, but it scared me.
Even that terrifying kiss with Thomas, which she immediately regrets, and the horrible love triangle tropefest kiss with Seth, don’t convince Vee to quit this challenge, which has, after about the letter D, been making her feel like shit about herself pretty consistently. I do not understand why it was so important to her to finish. Her best friend even says that she never expected Vee to actually finish, just to do it until she was over her ex. The narration barely tries to make this make sense, Vee just telling Mel that it’s become so much more, without explaining the more.
Eventually, though, Vee claims the challenge has taught her a few things, like how she doesn’t need Mark or anyone. This one’s closest to being the point of the challenge, but it’s mostly just melodrama in response to being in the middle of fights with Killian and her friends, both of which will be resolved when those three wait to celebrate her half-marathon even though she didn’t apologize.
Then, Vee offers up this gem.
Like so many things—school, friendships, kissing challenges—the hardest part is just not letting yourself give up.
Now, yes, don’t give up is generally good advice, but it’s not ALWAYS ACROSS THE BOARD good advice. If something is bad for your mental health, you might need to quit it. If kissing seven guys got you over your ex, and you’ve fallen for someone else, the challenge was already successful, and maybe you should shut it down. She got nothing out of the rest of the challenge that she hadn’t already gotten, aside from the delight of crossing out all 26 letters.
Then there’s the final bit of wisdom.
I almost can’t believe twenty-six kisses went from being a dumb way to shock myself into getting over Mark to something that actually mattered—that showed me there’s no one perfect guy for me, that it’s okay for the girl to pay, that you can get your heart broken and come out the other side whole. That the most important thing you can do is love yourself, and other people will follow your lead.
The 26 kisses didn’t teach her this. Again, she very much knew basically all of this by the time she kissed Killian and had her inevitable scene with Mark where he wanted her back and she was over him. She had half the alphabet to go when she got over her heartbreak, learned that plenty of guys are fun to kiss, and that it was okay for a girl to pay for a date. As for the last bit, here’s how Vee learned how to love herself: she kissed herself for the letter V. Such metaphor. Much resolution. Very therapy. Wow. Also, note all the things she did not learn. For all that the challenge supposedly turned out to be about more than getting over Mark, all of those things are essentially getting over Mark. She didn’t learn anything about friendship or family or how to treat people. Not a damn thing. In a good book, the main character will leave the book changed from when it started. Vee leaves it precisely the same, except that instead of sad over her ex-boyfriend, she’s happy she has a new one. WHAT AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY.
A book about a kissing challenge sounds like my jam. I mean, the potential cuteness of the premise of 26 Kisses is huge. It sounds like such a Christina book. Unfortunately, 26 Kisses is an offensive, hot ass mess of slut-shaming, poor characterization, and all the worst handling of tropes. This book is a shitshow, and I seriously advise against it. There are so many better books with this sort of concept. Instead, try Rachael Allen’s 17 First Kisses or Lindsey Rosin’s Cherry for similar sorts of basic ideas but with amazing executions.
Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy: