Who I Kissed
by Janet Gurtler
5 Stars: Keeper
Paperback: 312 Pages
Publication: October 1, 2012 by Sourcebooks Fire
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She never thought a kiss could kill…
Samantha didn’t mean to hurt anyone. She was just trying to fit in...and she wanted to make Zee a little jealous after he completely ditched her for a prettier girl. So she kissed Alex. And then he died—right in her arms.
Was she really the only person in the entire school who didn’t know about his peanut allergy? Or that eating a peanut butter sandwich and then kissing him would be deadly? Overnight Sam turns into the school pariah and a media sensation explodes. Consumed with guilt, abandoned by her friends, and in jeopardy of losing her swimming scholarship, she’ll have to find a way to forgive herself before anyone else will.
It all started with a kiss. When Sam kisses Alex to get back at Zee for making out with another girl after flirting with her, she never expected him to get an asthma attack--or die on the way to the hospital. But he does, and she has to live with the survivor's guilt. Sam has a hard time coping. She wishes that she was the one who died and thinks that she doesn't deserve happiness. To punish herself, she quits the swim team and begins withdrawing within herself.
Sam makes a lot of stupid choices. From kissing Alex though she loves Zee to quitting the swim team that she loves to believing that she's worthless, Sam falls into a viscious cycle of self harm without resorting to actual, deliberate physical harm. Though she's trying to make things right, she fails to respect herself or see that she's failing to do good in the world. Things culminate when she makes a really stupid mistake and finally realizes that nothing she's doing can fill the emptiness within her. Sam is an easily relatable character and one that I wanted to support. I understand her motives and hope that her experiences will continue to strengthen her and make her a better person in the future.
Not just Sam, but the other characters are all very real characters. There's Zee and his grief over his best friend's death. Alex's family and their loss. Sam's eccentric and loving aunt. Her supportive father who has dealt with his own loss and wants only the best for his daughter. All of these characters' personalities have their own charm and motives, and I like to think that I understand where they're coming from. They are so well developed and play their own important roles in the story. Even Alex, though his character serves mainly as a catalyst for the true heart of the plot--Sam's guilt and the way she copes with it.
Janet Gurtler has a talent for writing realistic stories about heart-moving characters and serious issues without getting preachy. I love her writing style and the way she can really bring out the emotions in a story and evoke them in the reader. Grief plays a large role in the story. While this story centers on Sam and the torrent of emotions that she feels over her perceived role in Alex's death, however, allergies and a mental disorder are brought up, as is sex and drugs. There is mature content in the form of a small sex scene and some language.
This is a story that I can see myself reading again. It's a keeper.
A copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher.
Teen Peer Pressure
Guest Post by Janet Gurtler
Since I write about teen relationships, I explore them a lot in my head. Sometimes I take from my still rather vivid memories of being a teen, but often I read up on teen dynamics or talk to today’s teens. I’ve also been known to stalk teens on Facebook and twitter (purely for research and not as creepy as it sounds, I promise) Things have changed with all the technology kids have. Today’s teen years are both isolated with technology and overcrowded with technology.
The teen years are the time when we’re most ruled by peer pressure. Let’s face it; high school is a society within itself. Adults may govern it, but the actual world is flourishing with teen rules and pressures. What to wear, how to speak. Choices to make. And there is judgment. Most teens try to find a way to fit in, in one group or another. Even by rebelling and rejecting the most popular expectations is a way of fitting in with a different group.
I believe that individual personality and self-esteem play an important role in how much peers influence a teen. Some people are by nature, more invested in what others think of them. They want to conform, fit in, be popular, so the right things and say the right things. Others are more apt to flow with their own river, and not be so caught up in what they should do to fit in.
I don’t think that being a teenager is an easy job. For the first time teens are dealing with grownup issues and decisions. At the same time, they’re naturally separating themselves from their parents. The huge influence parents had on decisions when they were younger is fading. And so they turn to the most natural reflection of who they are-- their peers.
Adults function in a much more polite society than teenagers do. We are still faced with popularity contests and pressures about how to look and what to wear, but it’s not as socially acceptable to be as cutting about it. Teen peer pressure is much more daunting to face and to defy.
The other thing I believe plays a huge role in teens lives is family. Not as directly, but family dynamics past and present play a role in how kids function at high school level. As young children, we get a lot of our moral value system from our families and it’s these values that carry over and hopefully shape the way teens deal with the pressures that are out there.
In the books I write, teens are learning to function as individuals and to make their own decisions and figure out WHO THEY ARE. Their peers are a natural part of that equation. To me though, part of maturity and growth is also figuring out how to make your own choices and to learn to be true to yourself. I think I explore the teen’s relationship with others, but ultimately focus mainly on the teen’s relationship with herself! Or himself.
In Who I Kissed, Samantha is a pretty independent teen, yet she still seeks approval from her peer group. She’s the type of teen who feels like she doesn’t quite fit in, but she still tries. A little. Even as she rejects the swimmers who have always been her crowd, she is still influenced by them.
Sam’s journey is internal, but she also relies on her peer group to get through her tragedy. And the peer group is not always supportive.
Janet's road to author was a little windy. While in college, she worked as a DJ in a night club. After college she worked as an advertising copywriter for radio and then TV and eventually was lured over to sales and marketing. She missed writing though and, years later, she started her first book. She has been writing books ever since.
Review: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Author Interview: Janet Gurtler