Title: Kiss Crush Collide
Author: Christina Meredith
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Other Reviews for This Author: None
One thing many bloggers have disliked about this book has been the comparison to Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. The publisher used the comparison along with one to John Green, which is basically a sign of inevitably setting the bar at an impossible height. Now, as a reader who has yet to read either one (aside from a Green short story), those comparisons didn't have as big of an impact on my reading experience. Kiss Crush Collide has some of the surface aspects of both compared book and author: a romance between two teens of different social strata (Perfect Chemistry) and a writing style that is clean but poignant (John Green). The novel ultimately shows constructional issues that prevent its good parts from leaving a large impact, but Meredith shows bits and bobs that could make for a hard-hitting writing style in future, polished books.
Pink, yellow, blue. Leah has always come as part of a set. One of the three gorgeous Johnson girls; the youngest daughter of two wealthy parents who mingle at the country club and golf course in their spare time. The Johnson girls have everything. Beauty and brains alike perpetuate the idea of the Johnson girl. Leah's eldest sister, Yorke, is getting married to a parent-approved fiance that promises to continue on the family's upper-class lifestyle. Freddie, the middle sibling, is a francophile that is dating a guy of similar interest and parental approval. Both girls had flawless grades in school. Both reigned as feminine royalty, and everyone, especially Leah, knew it. They were Johnson girls after all. Leah has always wanted to follow in their footsteps. Hasn't she?
The popularity and beauty just remind Leah of how much she isn't like her sisters. All of her teachers give her special treatment. She's taken every single class that her sisters took in high school, having a wellspring of notes and tests to look from if she ever needs to. Her boyfriend Shane has classic good looks and is favored by Leah's mother, a sure sign that he's a successful beau for a Johnson girl to have. None of this is really Leah, though. Sometimes even she can't see past the gilded facade that has been erected for her. Her family has spent their lives dictating the person that she should become, and Leah has no idea who she truly is because of it.
One thing is certain: Leah is not the girl that her family wishes her to be. Beneath all of the popularity and color-coding lies something more. Leah is not just the girlfriend of a boy that treats her like an accessory. Leah is not just the daughter of a socialite who worries more about appearance and promptness than about her daughter's individuality. She is a girl who is bent on digging to find something more; someone who will slowly chip away at her social restraints until someone new emerges from the ashes. That new someone begins to emerge as Leah begins to rebel in the most uncontrollable way possible. Leah begins to fall for Porter, a boy from the wrong end of the social sphere that works as a valet at the country club. The relationship that Leah develops isn't saccharine and overly sweet, but it does change her life - and herself - in ways she never expected.
One of two things about this book will annoy the hell out of a majority of readers. Leah is one of those things. She's a protagonist that is purposefully unlikable, and many readers know that those protagonists can be the best types. They can also be the worst. It fully depends on a combination of reader sympathy, understanding of character motive, and underlying characterization that makes the character three-dimensional despite the general unlikable personality. Kiss Crush Collide provides some backstory for Leah's unlikable state, yet the course of the novel doesn't show any development of her unlikable state. Leah isn't a static character, but her basic personality doesn't gain any nuance that would allow the reader to say, "Wait a minute, I actually kind of like her." To be completely fair, I'm not a reader that has to like their protagonists if I can understand them. Leah's family life is so constricting and ego-boosting that it's not a surprise that she acts spoiled and makes fun of those that are against her. Leah is not entirely unaware of her actions, either, which makes her that much harder to sympathize with as the text moves forward. She would take a small step forward in the character department only to take a small step back, ending up right where she started. That kind of thing gets annoying for a reader and just makes the text seem meandering and pointless. After all, readers want to see the main character take a journey. Even Scarlett O'Hara, who many find to be as abrasive as steel wool, had a storyline that compelled her to move forward and change. Leah is no Scarlett O'Hara, and she does not work as an unlikable character. Leah's narrative voice eventually became tolerable, and on some level it was interesting to follow her character type through the romantic situation with Porter and the more-prominent issues that were going on with her family. Leah's interactions and trouble with her family made more of an impact on the storyline than anything, but sadly her narrative never changed enough for the reading experience to show that to its full advantage.
Maybe Leah's tale would have been more than tolerable if it contained characters that surpassed her in the developmental department. Meredith succeeds in developing the relationships between Leah and the side characters, yet she doesn't really change her side characters anymore than she does her protagonist. Leah's familial issues are the heart and soul of Kiss Crush Collide, being the main thing about her life that she aims to shake up with her growing affection for Porter. Her eldest sister is the most homogeneous of the three of them and is the model for Freddie and Leah's entire lives. Freddie shows a level of differentiation with her interest in the French culture, yet Meredith uses Freddie's behavior and Leah's observation of it to make it clear that Freddie is still stuck in the whirlpool of Johnson-family expectations despite her individuality. She's on the track to marrying her boyfriend and settling down the same way Yorke is, and she barely even notices is it because of how complacent her life is. Leah's sisters are interesting but don't change. Their dynamic and place in Leah's life is really what allows their part of the story to seem interesting - they serve as the ultimate reminder for the reader that Leah's attitudes are ingrained and her independence is something that will need to be fought for internally again and again. Leah's sisters are everything that her rebellion with Porter is working against. Leah's parents are pretty set in their ways as well; her mother is arguably the 'villain', although her streak of villainy is more in line with the subtle, emotional bullying type than with anything that's extremely good/bad. Leah's mother obviously cares for her children but is ultimately set in her ways to the point where her children suffer as individuals. Shane is a douche (and notice how he's approved by Leah's mother, which automatically ups his douche factor). He is controlling towards Leah and doesn't really care about what she thinks, just how she appears and acts in their relationship. He exists mainly to foil Porter, who is more developed than some of the other characters. Porter is interesting because he's like Leah in some ways. He doesn't particularly care for a deep relationship in the beginning, but he makes her think and forces her to re-evaluate her life and her role in changing it. Porter and Leah's romance is pretty mild, too. They take joyrides and only scratch the surface of their complex relationship. Regardless, Meredith still manages to make their romance feel meaningful, even if it's due to the impact it has on Leah's family life as opposed to an in-depth romantic situation.
Contrary to my negative feelings on the overall characterization, I did enjoy the writing that Meredith brought to the table in Kiss Crush Collide. For a debut novel, the actual construction of the wording was easy to slip into and felt weighted. This book isn't very long - perhaps too short considering that none of the characters changed much within the allotted page space - but the writing packs a punch with how concise the style is. Leah's words are as sharp as swords. There is so much that goes on underneath the surface of Leah's thoughts. Her character is very much explained and shown in all of her unlikable glory. That kind of connection to the character's voice made the novel fascinating. Leah was frank and noticed a lot that went on around her while still reading like a regular teenager. Nothing about her analysis was extremely in-depth on the surface, yet Meredith is a writer that uses simple writing to express just how someone takes in the world around them and can see the underlying unease in people. The one major issue was the pacing- because there was none. The pacing and the character arc are interconnected in a book like Kiss Crush Collide - the plot just isn't enough on its own to take the reader from point A to point B when the focus is on the character relationships. Leah does eventually get to the stage where she learns new things about herself and the reader cheers at the long-coming breakthrough in her mindset, but the journey there is one without much excitement to it. The book explores too many day-to-day activities without providing enough character insight and change in them.
Kiss Crush Collide isn't a bad book, but it's a book that was executed in a way that makes the reading experience difficult. The unlikable protagonist doesn't show enough of her inner self to appeal to readers, and the other characters are just as static as she is. The writing is insightful and sparse but doesn't dig deep enough into the focal points of the novel, which in turn causes the plot's pacing to be slow despite the short length of the book. A reader can still read this book in a few hours because of the length, and because of that some will not be bothered by the book's faults as much as they would in a longer work that made the same mistakes and had the same level of characterization. Christina Meredith had good ideas at work but just didn't give them the attention they needed. I by no means hated the reading experience, but the book will be hard for many to like and doesn't leave many good memories. Hopefully Meredith's next release has a bit more promise to it, as her writing is good enough to be fabulous if seen in a well-executed novel.
Cover: This cover is so freaking sexy. The romance is totally overplayed, but the male model is hot. The simplicity of the title font and coloring is also a plus.
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Teen!)