5 January 2012

Review 5: The Kissing Club by Julia Clarke

"Emily loves being part of The Kissing Club. She loves the feeling of being special and she loves the ruby ring her parents bought her when she joined. It's a symbol that means everyone knows she's made a promise not to have sex before she gets married. So how on earth has she ended up pregnant?"

An intriguing premise that is unfortunately ruined by bad writing, a messy plot, characters with no depth, a confused message and ultimately just being a rather miserable read that seems to be trying to pretend to be tongue in cheek and charming. I think it's fair to say, I thought this was awful.

First Line: "When I was fourteen I joined the 'Kissing Club', I became a professional virgin and also gave up telling lies."

Emily is 17 and from Leeds. She has friends. She does well at school and is a is a mentor of an unspecified project for an unspecified reason. She fancies the boy everyone fancies. Said generic boy has a skinny younger brother who Emily irrationally hates at the beginning of the novel until he is shockingly revealed to be caring and full of hereto unknown personality. Her parents love her but do not really understand her. Her mother is concerned about her weight. (She does have an alcoholic grandmother, however).

The first interesting thing about Emily is that she once visited her friend in America and after a visit to their church abstinence club decided to make a chastity vow. Unfortunately for us we do not ever really understand why Emily decides to do this therefore her decision to break it is at best confusing and at worst dull. The second interesting thing about Emily is that she is a pathological liar. Unfortunately for us the author talks about this in detail in the first chapter and then proceeds to never mention it again. The last interesting thing about Emily is that she is pregnant. Unfortunately the why and wherefore of how this happened is treated as the books main plot device and a huge mystery to be uncovered and as it is obvious what has happened from approximately half way through the novel, the second half of the novel is a slow grind to have said conclusions confirmed some mild tension over whether previously mentioned alcoholic grandmother will finish making her a dress that hides her bump in time for a party whilst trying to go cold turkey.

Emily is just so uninspiring. She's like Bella Swan - vapid, dull, pregnant but her baby isn't even half sparkly vampire who is eating her from the inside. And when your heroine is being compared unfavourably to Bella Swan, you know you have a problem. The main theme of what she talks about is what she eats. I think this was supposed to be charming and funny but really it's just dull and the joke 'pregnant women like to eat' wears thin as quickly as you would imagine. There's also a bizarre subplot where her teacher hides in a bush and tries to convince her to give him her baby as he and his wife can't conceive. She says no and nothing more is ever said of him again or how Emily feels about it. Just to reinforce that, her teacher hides in a bush and asks for her baby and Emily is mildly upset and wanders off for more food.

I just really didn't understand what the author was really trying to say. Nothing is really presented with any particular meaning. Her chastity vow isn't lauded but it isn't criticised. There is one brief mention of the fact that she lied about being on the pill - but this is never considered and the fact that pregnancy is easily prevented by using protection is never really emphasised. She sleeps with a boy because she thinks she loves him but this is never really looked into, she just repeats it to whoever asks about why she slept with him. I wasn't after a hard and fast moral code but it's not presented in a way which encourages readers to think about whether her vow was a good idea or why she felt she should sleep with him or how pregnancy can be prevented or the other potential dangers of sleeping with someone who sleeps with a lot of other people, other options for teenage pregnancies - it's all just lying there, flaccidly. Things happen and none of the characters really talk about what real people would talk about in that situation.

My final criticism is that the book is so melancholy and depressing. Emily doesn't want to be pregnant, her parents are devastated, her teacher is potentially mentally ill, her grandmother is drunk. No one really looks after her physically or emotionally. This is a story about a girl in a miserable situation she doesn't want to be in where there is no humour, no appealing or even realistic characters where potentially interesting and relevant issues for teenagers are left unexplained or ignored completely.

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