Confessions of a Serial Kisser. By Wendelin Van Draanen. Knopf. $15.99.
The Temptress Four. By Gaby Triana. HarperTeen. $16.99.
Better Latte Than Never. By Catherine Clark. HarperTeen. $5.99.
It’s not quite summer yet by the calendar, but summer-reading books have sprouted faster than the spring flowers. Many, including these three, are aimed at high-school girls; and while the plots are formulaic to the point of silliness, some of the writing is bright and interesting enough to make the books worthwhile for beach or lazy-day reading. That’s the case with Confessions of a Serial Kisser, thanks to Wendelin Van Draanen’s sure stylistic hand. The book’s protagonist – 16-year-old (later 17-year-old) Evangeline Bianca Logan (how’s that for a name?) – suffers from the parental marital angst that permeates most of this genre. In the course of searching innocently (all right, fairly innocently) through her mother’s things, she discovers a cache of romance novels, which she glances at just to confirm how awful they are. And soon enough, Evangeline is hooked – not so much on the books as on the concept of being swept up in strong arms and whisked away to a land of perfect contentment where crimson kisses befuddle the senses (but not enough to lead too far; this is not that sort of book). So of course Evangeline goes in search of the perfect kiss at her high school, which leads to some really awful lip locks and some really bad mistakes (such as kissing her best friend’s crush). And all this, of course, leads to the inevitable life lessons, including one about forgiveness – even if that means forgiving her two-timing father. There’s not a shred of profundity here, but there are some neat chapter titles (such as “The Kissing Corridor,” “Plenty of Mouth to Go Around,” and “Page 143” [which starts on page 161]); and Van Draanen provides a bright, perky writing style and a soupy, love-affirming conclusion.
The Temptress Four covers many of the same bases, but with four protagonists with “how-about-that” names: Killian, Alma, Yoli, and narrator Fiona DeArmas. They are BFFs who have just made it through high school and are on an eight-day Caribbean cruise to celebrate graduation – but under the cloud of a fortune teller’s prediction that one of them will not return. The girls experience massages, jealousy, uncertainty about the future, flirting (in which Killian and her breasts take the lead), liquor, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, and of course guys (current boyfriends and “hmm, maybes”). Fiona makes an attempt or two at showing that she has inner thoughts: “I told him all about the pastry arts program. How I was really excited about it, but that I didn’t want to be graduating so quickly because it’d mean starting to work all the earlier, but how my mother really wanted it because she had had to work so hard as a single mom, and this way, I would have it made in the shade.” That’s about as profound as the thinking gets (and the style). But there are really no depths to plumb here; and the answer to the “who doesn’t return?” question turns out to be not much of a surprise. And, of course, everyone learns a little something about everyone else, and about herself….
And so it goes as well in Better Latte Than Never, originally published in 2003 and now available in paperback. Catherine Clark, a reliable producer of never-too-heavy teen lit, here focuses on Peggy Fleming Farrell, whose parents have named all their kids after ice-skating stars (Peggy’s little sister, for instance, is Dorothy Hamill Farrell). A two-parent family is a rarity in teen books, but in this case it’s an important part of the plot, since Peggy’s parents have grounded her for wrecking the family station wagon, and now Peggy has to work at a coffee shop inside a gas station even though she can’t drive there, and she has to pay them back for all the money from other accidents she had, and it’s all so unfair. And her father, a highly persuasive real-estate agent, decides that he wants Peggy to ice skate with him even though she hasn’t skated for years and doesn’t like it anymore. And Peggy has to go everywhere by rollerblade, which puts her in the path of a nasty dog; or by bike, enduring the indignity of dealing with inconsiderate drivers: “On my way home, an eighteen-wheeler veers into the bike lane and nearly dusts me. This town has no soul. And nobody yields to your love. Nobody yields, period.” Peggy is obviously way overdue for some good stuff to happen, but she’s stuck dealing with Kamikaze Bus Driver and her pregnant-again mother. Oh…and a robber whom she helps catch and who then starts complaining about her French accent, because he’s really…well, let’s just say that things are a little weirder in Better Latte Than Never than in typical summer-fun books, and that’s a good thing, even though it comes around at last to an entirely typical-for-books-of-this-sort question: “Evolve. Is that what I’ve been doing?”
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