Mary Hogan’s new teen novel, The Serious Kiss, proves you can’t judge a book by its title or its cover. Said cover sports a chihuahua with a big red-lipped kiss smacked on his face and calls forth Paris Hilton and her dog, Tinkerbell. I confess I opened the book thinking it would be a fast read centered on the moment when the protagonist, Libby Madrigal, experiences her first “totally real, sincere, meaningful, soulful, poetic, inspiring, knee-buckling, love-filled, journal-worthy, insomnia-producing, appetite-reducing, mind-blowing, life-changing unforgettable, undeniable, serious kiss.” After all, she and her best friend, Nadine, longed to experience the “big IT, the IT supreme: Love.” To that end, they made a pact at the beginning of their freshman year to each obtain one serious kiss.
But Hogan had something else in mind and like any good writer she telegraphed it in the first paragraph, the first sentence, the first phrase when Libby opens the book with: “My dad drinks too much and my mom eats too much, which pretty much sums up why I am the way I am: a knotted mass of anxiety, a walking cold sweat.” With a mother who spouts words like “dinneroo,” “fannywannydingo,” and “poopadilly,” a father who is in severe denial about his drinking problem, a chain-smoking older brother and an eleven-year-old brother who has yet to show signs of maturing, Libby struggles to define herself in the midst of chaos. The Chihuahua? Try Juan Dog the Chihuahua, an ancient, rather high-strung dog known for the strength of his constant yapping and ability to levitate. Despite the odds, Libby does find the boy of her dreams. Then, in the space of one weekend, she’s ripped from the only life she’s ever known in Chatsworth, California and planted somewhat unceremoniously in the small desert town named Barstow “in the middle of absolutely nowhere” where she meets her caftan-robed, spiked-hair, mobile-home-living grandmother Nana. Did I mention she’d been told all her grandparents were dead? For Libby, her life is so over.
The Serious Kiss is more than a story about a girl’s quest for true love and the ultimate kiss; it is the story of a girl who finally comes to terms with who she really is. With great writing, memorable characters, and a heroine who takes you inside her life and makes you laugh and cry all at the same time, Hogan delivers one great read. What is even more impressive is that this is Hogan’s first novel. Does Libby finally achieve the ultimate kiss?
I’ll never tell.
–vikk, Down the Writer’s Path