Welcome to Authorology, where twelve authors talk about their favorite parts of YA books.
It’s the first month of the new year, and the first month of Authorology, where we get to know what some of our favorite authors consider the best in YA. February features everybody’s favorite commercial holiday: Valentine’s Day. But the best kisses in YA are anything but commercial.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Now I know that everyone and their cat has already read this one, recommended it, and then foisted it on every willing relative, but I have to celebrate the [redacted for spoilers]kiss, because it is earned. Boy howdy, is it earned. As readers we get chapters and chapters of slowly-building heatache until we begin finally begin to wonder if our heroes are ever going to 1) catch a break and 2) get their heads out of their collective patoots long enough to get cozy. By the time it all goes down, our characters have gone through the narrative ringer, they deserve some smoochies (at the very least), and Sáenz delivers in a beautiful line of first-person repetition that goes on and on and on. Excuse me while I go back to relive every word.
Romione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Ron and Hermione’s first kiss in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was the perfect payoff to their storyline, all the ups and downs and fights, with the trigger being a callback to her pet cause that he finally totally got. So many times, the payoff to a slow build relationship is anticlimactic, but this one was perfect.
– Shanna Swendson, author of Rebel Mechanics
Dahlia Adler is the queen of kisses?
All the kisses Dahlia Adler ever wrote. But especially Brianna and Vanessa in Under the Lights. Because they’re seriously hot together.
– Marieke Nijkamp, author of This Is Where It Ends
Eleanor and Park.
Kissing in YA is always fraught with tension, particularly when a first kiss is at stake. For better or worse, I’m kind of a hardcore realist at heart, and I prefer my YA romances to be at once tender and tough, because love, especially first love, is a total mindfuck of the highest (and often most glorious) order.
For that reason, my pick for Best Kiss in a YA novel is the first kiss between the title characters in Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor! Difficult, torn, broken, tough, troubled, and yet: winsome. Park! Difficult, lost, confused, stubborn, hurt, and yet: winsome. Thrown together on the social monstrosity that is the school bus, inching their way toward each other, step by painful step…this book is a master exercise in teenage frustration, social dynamics, and class mores. And by god, when the romance starts to happen between the outcast (Eleanor) and the sort-of-socially-accepted Park, it begins with the best of all things: a finger placed in a hand, the hand closing around the finger. This book is tenuous, and I love that. Every look, every brush of an elbow, is at once fragile, promising, and scary. And when Eleanor and Park finally, finally, get it together enough for that first kiss (her actual first-ever), I cried. Because Eleanor and Park aren’t rich, or beautiful. College isn’t a given, or even a thought. Daily survival is on the menu for them both and that kiss means just about fucking everything: they are not alone, anymore. And I don’t know how she did it, but even in the total Ferris Wheel moment of that first kiss, you know Rowell isn’t going to let Eleanor and Park off easy. The kiss isn’t going to solve anything. The kiss isn’t going to make Eleanor’s stepfather less of a psychotic prick. It’s not going to make Park’s life any easier.
Because kisses don’t do that in real life.
But they do open up the world.
– Kathleen Glasgow, author of the upcoming Girl in Pieces
I think Fifteen was the first YA book I read. It was certainly one of the first romances I read. And this kiss is so perfect. You have to go through the entire book (almost, anyway) for the payoff. It’s not a perfect kiss; it’s awkward and a little clumsy, and it gets interrupted by Jane’s dad, but… *sigh* I still get goosebumps when I reread that scene. As Cleary wrote, “Stan’s first kiss—it was a moment to cherish.”
– Ella Martin, author of Will The Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?
Chapter 21, masquerade scene in Incarnate by Jodi Meadows. No question, hands down one of the most amazing kissing scenes in the history of YA kissing scenes. I have this weird thing where when I get to a super-realistic romantic kissing/love scene, my fingers ache. I told you it was weird, don’t judge me. But that scene in Incarnate was one of the most amazingly finger-aching romantic scene ever.
– Joy N. Hensley, author of Rites of Passage
The first, almost accidental kiss, between Levi and Cath in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. It is a small event in terms of the larger drama of the book but it’s seismic in the way it divides the lives of the characters. Isn’t real life like that? Shaped by the unexpected and seemingly (in the moment) small things, while we obsess and worry over the “big” stuff?
The kiss occurs about halfway through the text, and offers a neat divide between the life of Cath and Levi before the event, and their lives after.
It’s such a great book, and I loved the way this “small” event opens the door to large changes. So much more clever than 400 pages of frustrated tension released in a magic (or erotic) super-kiss.
– Kevin Sylvester, author of MINRS
Let’s kiss Ted Callahan.
The title of Amy Spalding’s Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys) offers an ironclad guarantee that there is a lot of kissing to be done in this book, but the thing is, the kissing is SO GOOD, some of the best I’ve ever read. As a reader, I’m a sucker for kisses that come when you least expect it. And I love when girls make the first move. Spalding is also a master of writing kissing scenes where all senses are activated, which I think is amazing.
Like the scene after Riley’s band plays the fall formal, their first big gig, and Ted’s standing there, all bashful and cute, and Riley’s pumped and energized from playing the drums all night on stage:
“Hey, Ted.” My face is still hot from adrenaline and stage lights and the general climate of the gym, and I can’t control the tidal wave of words smacking at the shores of my mouth. “I’m so glad you came, I know you’re not into dances, like, who is, ugh, dances, but—”
“Riley, you guys were great.”
He is so close and smiley and real. I’m emboldened, or crazy. Crazyboldened. I am Making Things Happen.
I lean in and kiss him….
He touches my collar, like he’s smoothing it down, even though my collar’s pretty much impeccable. But it feels like Ted’s making a move—
a tiny move, sure, but I’m taking it — and so I lean in for more kissing, which happens, and slightly less timidly at that. My brain is full of thoughts, which is weird because I thought all thoughts would run screaming from my head once my lips made contact with Ted Callahan’s. Universe, I am kissing Ted Callahan! Ted Callahan is kissing me! IN PUBLIC! Sound the alarms!” (pg. 147-148)
BAM! A perfect kiss. A crazyboldened kiss. That’s the exact kind that gets my heart racing.
Then later, when Ted and Riley are kissing again: “I lace my fingers through his, and he pulls me in. I think about waiting for him to make the next move, but for Ted I think the pulling-me-in is the next move. So I kiss him, even though we’re on the sidewalk in public. Ted’s lips move against mine. It’s soft, slow kissing that gives off white noise in my brain that shuts everything else out. Ted tastes like lemon drops.” (p. 239)
Every kiss should be soft and slow and taste like lemon drops. In fact, I think Amy Spalding has reinvented Valentine’s Day for me. Forget chocolate kisses. That’s what my husband’s going to be getting for Valentine’s Day – a three-pound bag of lemon drops. Let the sweet and slightly tangy kisses commence.
– E. Katherine Kottaras, author of How To Be Brave
This is also a runner up for best title. How hot is that guy in The DUFF? This might be TMI, but I read Kody’s ARC whilst in a Paris bathtub. The bubbles were so high they almost toppled over. I couldn’t stop reading. What a book.
– Heidi R. Kling, author of Paint My Body Red