As I began reading Kiss Me Again, I was initially highly concerned. I really liked the direction that Charlie was heading in at the end of If We Kiss. She had finally managed to make a step away from her unhealthy crush on boy-flirt Kevin Lazarus, which was really good timing, too, since her mom and his dad just got married. Then, I open the next book and there she is obsessing over kissing Kevin again. Vail does, though, quickly convince me that the story is actually going where it needs to go, and Kiss Me Again turns out to be a touching story more about family dynamics than romance.
Now that they're step-siblings, Charlie and Kevin have a serious conundrum, since they are teens who have kissed one another and would like to do that more. The romance, while perhaps the most obvious element of the story, does not dominate the other aspects by any means. Charlie and Kevin both grow a lot in their dealings with romantic relationships, Kevin learning to be more mindful and less of a flirt, while Charlie refuses to lead on a friend with a crush on her. Their surprisingly mature actions, especially in comparison with the events of If We Kiss really impressed me and made me much more sympathetic than I was previously.
Settling into a new family is difficult. The Lazarus family moves into the house Charlie and her mother have been in. Charlie has to share a bathroom for the first time in her life, and deal with the fact that the soap is now often wet from someone else (which is totally gross, I agree, girl). With her mom, Charlie didn't have many chores, but Joe Lazarus, her new step-father, believes in everyone doing their share. Joe is also much less lenient than her mother.
What's great, though, is that Vail highlights both the struggles and discomforts of these two families blending, and the wonderful parts. Most touching, I think is the affection shown by all towards Samantha, Kevin's younger sister. They all try to be there for her. Never is this better illustrated than when she loses one of her baby teeth. While she's sleeping, Charlie slips a dollar under her pillow. In the morning, Sam happily announces that the tooth fairy left her four dollars this time, and you realize that all four other family members left her a dollar for her tooth. Much as they may all have moments where they wish the marriage hadn't happened, ultimately, they are all making the best of it and taking good care of one another.
One of the trickiest things for Charlie to overcome in this change is that she has less time to spend with her mom. They're still trying to work out a nice balance of mother-daughter time when the book ends, but they are working on it. I mention this because Kiss Me Again has one of the best scenes (meaning incredibly awkward) where a parent tries to discuss sexuality with the child.
What Left Me Wanting (A Slight Bit) More:
Charlie also grows as a person on two more fronts. She gets a job, all through her own motivation and earns her first ever money. In a whole other realm of life, she learns a bit about friendship. Though her backstabbing of Tess in If We Kiss cannot be forgiven, that does not necessarily make Tess a good friend either. In Kiss Me Again, Charlie's starting to realize how imbalanced and unhealthy her relationship with Tess is. I do think that this lets Charlie off the hook a little bit too easily, perhaps an attempt to make her more sympathetic, but it's a good lesson for teens about friendship, and how insidiously terrible for your self-esteem a supposed best friend can be.
The Final Verdict:
Rachel Vail's follow-up to If We Kiss greatly improves on its predecessor. If you were on the fence about reading the second one, I would recommend it. Charlie's voice finds its stride here, and the focus on family makes this a rare, powerful young adult read.