Kiss Crush Collide by Christina Meredith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I really hesitate to state that I didn't enjoy a novel, especially since this is Christina Meredith's first novel and I really don't want to discourage her. Her writing style isn't bad, but I disliked this book for specific reasons that have to do with character development. The main character and narrator is Leah Johnson, the youngest of the three gorgeous, wealthy, high-achieving Johnson sisters. Meredith does not make her narrator an easy one to sympathize with. Other authors have made the supermodel-like blonde teen their heroines, including L.J. Smith in the Vampire Diaries series - but while everyone in Smith's series universally loves Elena Gilbert, Leah Johnson is universally hated by her (jealous) classmates. Yet she's far from a sympathetic underdog. The biggest problem in Leah's privileged life is the pressure she feels to conform to the expectations of her shallow, self-centered mother. This is the primary motivator of the action in the novel. Yet, even as she complains about her somewhat overbearing older sisters being clones of her mother, Leah's actions toward others show her to be every bit as shallow and self-centered as the mother she supposedly opposes. The pivotal moment of conflict in the novel calls for Leah to go against her mother's wishes. Once Leah decides to do that, she becomes a tiny bit more sympathetic to her rival, Valerie, but there's no sense that either Leah or her mother are changed in any significant way by Leah's decision.
Leah reveals in the early pages of the novel that she suddenly finds herself unable to do math, something she's been good at up until her junior year of high school. She knows how to drive and owns a car, but has no confidence in her abilities to drive, so she chooses not to. These are but two examples of how Leah is presently as a helpless, childlike young woman - a stereotype young women have worked long and hard to overcome.
The character of Valerie is also problematic to feminist readers. Valerie is competing with Leah to be the class valedictorian. Her focus is on reading and schoolwork rather than fashion, and up until the very end of the book when Valerie proves to be useful to Leah, Leah reviles her for being smart. As a reader, I like to root for the smart girl. I felt really bad for Valerie, and also for the woman who appears at the pool in one chapter whom Leah mocks for looking too athletic. These are more examples of female stereotyping, and of how much Leah has internalized her mother's shallow viewpoint (which the plot supposedly turns on Leah opposing). It feels like Meredith bet on the wrong horse - a book from Valerie's point of view would have been much more interesting.
The other thing I disliked about this novel is that the plot is also shallow. Not much happens. Leah's life is so perfect, her problems all seem trivial. Since not much is ever at stake for her, there's no sense of urgency to her narrative. It simply meanders along, going through the motions as Leah does when she's helping her oldest sister plan her wedding. I really enjoy the romance genre, so I wanted something grand and dramatic to happen in the Leah-Shane-Duffy love triangle. It never does. Duffy exits briefly, Leah claims to be devastated (not very convincingly), but then Duffy comes back and all is well again. With a few more rewrites, this novel could be something. As it stands, it relies too heavily on stereotypes of girls and not nearly enough on real, recognizable human emotions.
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