The Kissing Booth, by Beth Reekles

The background story for Beth Reekles's debut novel The Kissing Booth is impressive. (The novel itself, on the other hand... um, we'll get to that in a minute.) Reekles, who is seventeen, started writing her story two years ago, and eventually self-published it on WattPad, where it became the site's most-viewed teen fiction title. Random House picked up the British rights last fall, releasing The Kissing Booth as an e-book, and now Reekles's novel is available in America: an e-book edition is already out, and a trade paperback hits shelves on May 14th.

The Kissing Booth is the story of a pretty, popular, never-been-kissed teenager named Elle, whose childish crush on her best friend's older brother Noah has mostly faded over the years (or so she tells herself). But when she gets roped in to running a kissing booth for her school carnival, an enthusiastic kiss from Noah brings her old feelings roaring back to life. Elle isn't sure how to react, but it becomes increasingly obvious—to everyone but her, anyway—that her feelings are reciprocated.

I'm uncomfortable totally trashing the literary efforts of a teenager, so let's start with the positive: Reekles is a technically competent writer. Her grammar and style are fine, her story makes sense, and there are no catastrophic plot holes. (We've reviewed the work of many an adult writer who cannot say the same.) Her parents should be proud of her, and I'm sure she'll do really well on her end-of-school exams.

Unfortunately, having the ability and drive to write a novel needs to be combined with an idea worth writing about, and that was not the case here. The Kissing Booth is embarrassingly, painfully shallow. I had zero sense of the characters' lives, apart from whoever was being featured on the page in front of me. How does Elle pay for all those party dresses? Why doesn't her dad care when she stays out all night? What does she want to be when she grows up? Reekles seems to have no interest in answering those questions. Instead, her story waltzes from school to home to dance to party, in an utterly banal vision of the teenage high life. Meanwhile, nothing much actually happens—Elle and Noah are into each other, she worries about people finding out, people find out, [SPOILER] everything is okay! I'm serious, I've encountered more meaningful human drama watching Saturday morning cartoons.

To be fair, I am much older than this novel's target audience (and this wouldn't have been my kind of thing even when I was a teenager), so I gave this book to my fifteen-year-old neighbor and asked for her opinion. Her response: “It's like a Disney TV show, but with sex and drinking in it.” Succinct, but damning.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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