Who I KissedWho I Kissed by Janet Gurtler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Initial thoughts: This was my first official read of 2013. Verdict? Very lukewarm, this book had some potent moments of grief, but I couldn’t overcome several issues I had in the duration and aftermath of reading it. I hope I can explain my thoughts more in the full review.

Full review: Since reading Janet Gurtler’s “If I Tell” – I looked forward to reading more of her books, and I was especially excited about “Who I Kissed”, a book that follows a young woman who kisses a boy with a peanut allergy at a party. When the boy (Alex) dies unexpectedly, fingers point to Sam from many directions, including herself (considering she ate a peanut butter snack sometime before the party). From that point on, it’s a tough road of grief for Sam as she deals with taunts from students her own age, family issues in the way of rediscovering her mother long after she passed, dealing with fragile relationships, and ultimately comes to terms with what really happened at the party and how Alex died.

I’ll admit something right off the bat: this sounded to me much like the plot to Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson, but I was willing to see where it went, and ultimately, this was a far better book than Henderson’s because it’s self contained and deals with a number of sensitive issues in a realistic manner.

That’s not to say that this book did everything well, unfortunately. It was a rocky read for me from point one with the pacing and working up until the point of the party. For a good 30 pages I just couldn’t relate to any of the characters or the situations at hand. There was the typical “make the boy you like jealous by hanging out with another boy” actions on the part of the heroine. I was also frequently annoyed by the constant reminders that at Sam’s old school, rumor had it that she was a lesbian, and there are times when she makes light of that factor in a way that’s overdone. Another issue was that even once the book arrived at the point where Sam’s at the party and kisses Alex, the emotions are told too much and not shown enough. I was distracted a bit and thrown out of the book by how jagged the presentation of emotion was in that particular segment. Rather than being told that information, I wish that it had taken on a more deep POV and allowed both the character and the reader to come to those realizations more naturally. The story started to even out a bit as it went along, and I liked the entrance and advice given by Sam’s aunt and father, and basically the family dynamics that went with that.

Like in “If I Tell”, Gurtler addresses a lot of issues in “Who I Kissed” – like the aspects of grief, dealing with family matters, first time for sex, cheating, betrayal, and even a close call scene where there could’ve been another death in the measure of things. I think the biggest factor that counted against “Who I Kissed” was the pacing and the overtelling versus showing of emotional resonance. I think if that had been better handled, this would’ve made for a more potent read, but I still liked it for what it offered, particularly for the unique premise and the take on events.

Overall score: 2.5/5

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