cover image IF WE KISS


Rachel Vail, . . HarperCollins, $15.99 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-056914-3

Vail (the Friendship Ring series) proves that first love is anything but simple and sweet in this lively contemporary novel narrated by high-school freshman Charlotte ("Charlie") Collins. Charlie's dreams about what it would be like to be kissed by a boy ("Maybe there would be a tree above us, maybe some music would be playing") turn out to be a far cry from the actuality of her first smooch with flirtatious Kevin Lazarus. For one thing, the kiss occurs in a less than ideal setting, against the back wall of the school building ("a decorative sticking-out brick was digging into my backbone") and the head ninth-grade teacher, who witnesses the whole thing from his window, reports the incident to Charlie's mother. While Charlie vacillates between humiliation and infatuation with Kevin, her best friend Tess (who knows nothing about the kiss) also falls for Kevin. Meanwhile, Charlie's divorced mother coincidentally becomes smitten with Kevin's father. Overwhelmed by the complexities of love and lust, Charlie finds herself on the sharp point of a love triangle, knowing it is just a matter of time before someone gets hurt. The author's frank representation of teen sentiments and razor-sharp wit will keep readers turning pages to see how Charlie will handle her dilemmas, which grow increasingly complicated with each chapter. Charlie does not escape unscathed, yet her ability to rebound from heartbreak and embarrassment is reassuring and convincing. Ages 12-up. (May)