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Review of SERIOUS KISS by Mary Hogan

by Becky Laney

Hogan, Mary. 2005. SERIOUS KISS. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 006072207.

On the surface, SERIOUS KISS appears to be your typical YA novel. Two fourteen-year-old girls (Libby and Nadine) are best friends who decide at the beginning of their Freshman year that before the end of the year they want to have been *seriously* kissed. (Think NEVER BEEN KISSED). And for the first few chapters, it does look like that is the extent of the book. (Libby is head over heels for a popular boy, Zach Nash, who has a particularly snippy girlfriend. Of course, their relationship is strictly professional: she tutors him in English; he tutors her in geometry.) However, that is not what this book is *really* about. Nor is the book about the friendship between these two girls and the strains the friendship is put through as one girl gets a boyfriend and the other is left alone. The book tells a deeper story.

The book opens with Libby lamenting that her life is horrible, "My dad drinks too much and my mom eats too much, which pretty much sums up why I am the way I am: a knotted mass of anxiety, a walking cold sweat.Three weeks ago, when I entered my fourteenth year of existence, I realized the only stable, solid truth in my universe: Being me isn't easy" (1). And the following chapters do their best to prove that point. Libby's life becomes at times a continuous reel of embarrassing moments. Libby is embarrassed that: her mom is overweight, her mom uses baby-talk in public (*poopadilly*) her dad is a drunken unemployed slob, her home is a showcase of neurotic freaks. Since her dad has been unreliable for the most part since her tenth birthday because of the booze, she does not want any of her friends to come to her house. (Which is certainly understandable). But Libby's life is about to get a whole lot worse.

After hiding from the bill collectors a few too many times, it becomes obvious even to the drunken father that they can't keep living the way they have been. Libby returns home from the school's Halloween dance to discover that the family is moving that weekend to Barstow. It gets worse. Libby was embarrassed of their home before, but now she realizes that she'll be living in a *mobile home* in a trailer park. Of course, Libby is prone to judging everything by appearances. As she realizes that she is indeed going to have to live among *white trash* her "pity-me" sessions increase.

Libby has a hard time fitting in at her new school. She seems to be the automatic outcast. The only person who will even speak to her is Barbara Carver who Libby describes as, "a five-time loser: overweight, acne, braces, glasses, and bad hair. No, make that awful hair. Barbara gathered a tuft of hair on top of her head into an old rubber band; it shot straight into the air like Old Faithful. Her fingernails were chewed so ferociously they were ten bloody half-moons" (152). But for lack of a better option, Barbara becomes her closest friend in this new environment.

Still by this point the reader is left wondering who will Libby ever find to kiss her...let alone give her a serious kiss. The reader is left in doubt until the middle of chapter twenty-three when Warren makes his debut. In the remaining chapters, Warren and Libby flirt with each other about the idea of dating. However, after a monstrous Thanksgiving when Libby's dad is arrested for driving drunk and crashing into McDonalds, Warren distances himself from her. (Pretends she doesn't even exist.) Libby is confused and hurt, but what can she really say? Her dad embarrassed her too. So why shouldn't her dad's alcoholism scare off potential boyfriends? In the last chapter, Warren finally faces Libby and admits that while he was initially turned off by her father, he still likes her. He then reveals that his mother was killed by a drunk driver. The two are reconciled and share the long-awaited "serious" kiss.

There are many flaws in SERIOUS KISS. One of the biggest flaws, I feel, is the characterization. The only character who is really developed throughout the novel is Libby. Libby only changes slightly throughout the novel. She remains for the most part a confused young girl who is embarrassed of her parents and afraid that she might become like them. She is in many ways a shallow girl. She judges the world around her--and particularly the people around her--very superficially. She condems the ugly, the overweight, the nerds, etc. She befriends Barbara towards the end of the novel and does in many ways come to admire her friend for her courage and confidence. Barbara stands up to her bullies. She doesn't let anyone get away with calling her names. (She resorts to sitting on her bullies who were commenting on her large backside.) Libby's brothers are only marginal characters at best. Dirk barely gets any attention at all in the novel, and her older brother, Rif, is only noticed because he acts out. (He's arrested for stealing cigarettes). Her father is only seen as a bumbling, angry, lazy, sloppy drunk who ruins everything--that is until the last few chapters when the father decides after being in rehab a few weeks that he should stop being a drunk. Her mother is one-dimensional as well. The reader is told that she likes to eat, that she talks baby-talks and embarrasses and annoys those around her, and that she cries when her husband is a verbally abusive drunk. She remains the same throughout the novel for the most part. Again in the last few chapters, the reader learns that the mother has decided to lose weight and she's lost two pounds. Halfway through the novel, Libby meets her (paternal) grandmother for the first time.The grandmother too is eccentric. But Libby does make some progress in making this grandmother a part of her life. At one point in the novel, she goes to the grandmother for some advice. Libby's friends, like her family, are only marginally developed. Nadine is seen as the "normal" girl with a good family life. Early on in the novel, she gets a boyfriend and is well on her way to receiving her "serious" kiss. Nadine does not enter into the rest of the novel except a few phone calls. Barbara is described as at least physically being an outcast or a freak, but she is shown to be smart, strong, confident, and an all-around good friend. Warren is introduced late in the novel. Except for a few conversations and a silent meal of goat meat tacos and mango juice, the reader really has no idea who this guy is and what makes Libby fall in love with him. I think Warren is just there so the reader can have a "happy ending."

Another flaw in the novel, in my opinion, is that everything wraps up too neatly and too quickly. Everything was a complete mess in her life until the last two chapters of the book when suddenly her father decides not to be a mean drunk, her mother decides to lose weight, and her almost-boyfriend decides to become her real-boyfriend. There was so much conflict in the novel, and very little description as to how and why everything got resolved so quickly and perfectly.

But SERIOUS KISS does have some strengths. I enjoyed the fact that this novel was not the "typical" YA novel. It dealt with more than a young teen girl dreaming of getting a boyfriend or a young teen girl dreaming of becoming popular. Libby was effected by her father's alcoholism. She was more than embarrassed by his behavior. She missed the father she used to have before he turned to alcohol. She missed the father that was there for her when she was growing up. She missed spending quality time with him. She was angry that her father's alcoholism kept her from knowing her grandmother. (Her dad told her that her grandmother was dead because he didn't get along with his mother.) So Libby did show some depth some of the time. What I really wish is that SERIOUS KISS would have shown--actually shown--the family learning to resolve its issues together. The reader learns second-hand that the family is improving. We are told that the family attends counseling together. But I just wish that the reader could hear Libby talking with her parents and brothers and actually communicating how she felt. The reader does see a letter she wrote to her father that communicated how she felt about his alcoholism, but I was left wanting more of that. I wanted to see what was going on behind the scenes in this family that led to the happy ending.

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