Saturday, June 24, 2023

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did), by Tess Sharpe

While looking very much like a cute romance book about two girls who are best of friends and come close multiple times to actually locking lips, this novel is actually weightier material.  The girls are Penny and Tate, daughters of two best friends who have known each other most of their lives.  Tate's mother is in need of a new liver and Penny's mother volunteers to donate a part of hers to save her friend.  To make the whole thing work, the four of them have to move in with each other.  That would be fine, except that Penny and Tate have a long and complicated history which they have generally tried to avoid discussing or revisiting.  That proves difficult when the events and people involved are not exactly going away.  

The story contains a number of typical rom com tropes like the two girls having the share a bed after a snafu with their hotel reservations, but it quickly becomes apparent that there's more to the book.  A few years ago, Penny and her father were in a kayaking accident in which  Penny's father was killed. Penny's mother has never worked through her grief (or allowed Penny to do so).  This has left an awkward dynamic in their relationship, which being in close proximity with their best friends make much worse.  It's really the reconciliation of this painful history that ties the entire story together, making the predictable eponymous kiss at the end of the book something of an afterthought.

I liked the dynamics between the characters.  The complicated relationship between Tate and Penny which is far less romantic than one would expect.  The mothers (with each other and with their daughters) also bring in complications that are handled with aplomb by the author. I find the story of suppressed grief to be compelling enough to push the story forward.  And I even find the near-miss kisses to be surprisingly more dramatic than one would find usually in a romance.  This is a book of great characters and powerful emotions.

It's also a terribly busy story.  As often happens in these cases, the ending is a really hard trek tying up all of the loose ends.  Things suffer along the way.  A subplot involving an ex-girlfriend (Leslie) does nothing for the story and is even a bit bizarre.  More importantly, even the liver transplant story feels superfluous -- it provides an excuse for everyone to be together, but adds little else to the actual story.

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