Jordan Nielsen, children’s book buyer at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, shares her enthusiasm for Rachel Vail’s Kiss Me Again, a December paperback from HarperTeen.
December will bring the paperback release of Kiss Me Again, the sequel to If We Kiss by Rachel Vail, and this presents a perfect opportunity to introduce teens to this warm, funny series and Vail’s eccentric and endearing voice. I first came to know Vail through her two Justin Case novels for middle-grade readers, and was blown away by her authenticity, wit, and tenderness. With If We Kiss, I was delighted to see her bring those same gifts to an older audience.
Kiss Me Again rejoins the narrative of Charlie Collins, a ninth-grade girl whose otherwise ordinary life was turned on its head when her mother began dating the father of her crush, Kevin. Where Again picks up, their parents have married and Charlie and Kevin are now living under the same roof, after having stolen an illicit kiss. Conversation around the breakfast table is more than a little awkward as Charlie oscillates between keeping her feelings for her devilishly charming new stepbrother at bay, and just giving in to it. Sneaking around may be thrilling, but Charlie dreads the consequences of what would happen if their parents found out.
Having read so many YA books with completely flat, featureless first-person narrators, I find Vail’s Charlie electrifying, nuanced, and so vivid she’s practically laser-etched. For all the fun of the plot, it’s the combination of humor and heart in her perspective that really makes this book a standout. Self-aware and a little neurotic, Charlie is the antidote to characters that are supposed to come off as “relatable” because they trip over their own feet and drop things all the time, but are otherwise either perfect or completely bland.
How to cope with upheaval is the central issue in this story, paralleled in Charlie’s developing relationship with Kevin, and her changing family. As a brand-new stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsister arrive at her doorstep, Charlie's home life is fundamentally invaded, altered, and destabilized. Vail uses subtle yet poignant strokes in portraying the difficulty of this transition, whether it’s Charlie bristling at her stepfather’s attempts to bond with her, or becoming suddenly emotional over a new towel hook in the kitchen. The depiction is thoughtful and affecting.
A perfect fit for fans of Ann Brashares or Jenny Han, Kiss Me Again is a quiet dazzler, alive with personality and charm.