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Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America is pretty hard to resist if you’re a softie for covers with neon lights, especially when they look like drive-in signs and those diners where you stay in your car and waiters on roller skates serve you bright orange trays with shakes, burgers and onion rings right to your window. Onion rings!

The road trip movies I’ve seen lean towards all things zany while books often use the road to find catharsis in unlikely places. This one’s about friendship, grief and the weird things that can happen when you attempt to ride a bus across the country.

Kissing in america

Since her dad’s plane fell out of the sky over the ocean two years ago, Eva gets these stomach buggy days where she finds comfort in romance novels and her dad’s old candy wrappers. Her feminist studies professor mother doesn’t approve of her reading choices, but she’s busy. Eva finds a friend in Will, a popular senior she tutors every Friday. They click and a monster crush consumes her.

The smart daughter of a women’s studies brokenhearted mom falls in love. Of course, she has to hide it. When Will movies to LA to live with his dad, of course she has to contrive a way to see him again right now.

For most of the story Eva and her best friend Annie are on a bus trip to LA with stops in Cleveland, Tennessee, Texas and Tucson. This is Eva’s first time traveling and she gets to do so in good company with Will at the end of the tunnel. Sounds fun, but as news about her dad’s plane crash and the possibility of recovering the rest of his remains surfaces, her grief is rubbed raw all over again. Holes left by the emotional distance with her mom are smoothed a little by the love of an aunt, her mom’s best friend and Annie.

This coming of age is steeped in the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop and Adrienne Rich. Women in her life show her there are many different kinds of love and everyone has hurt.

The road trip has its lighter moments, too. Raised in Queens, Eva quickly realizes she prefers the smell of flowers to trash. Much as she enjoys her cowboy romance novels, big skies and shooting a gun with a real life cowboy prove more thrilling. I liked about 80% of this book. I wish the impetus and climax didn’t revolve around some peripheral guy, but I guess that’s sort of realistic. Trying to getting closer to a crush is probably the motivation behind many bold moves in adolescence.

Though the story doesn’t live up to the promise of good times with onion rings I read into the cover, I liked it okay.

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