________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012


Who I Kissed.

Janet Gurtler.
Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2012.
314 pp., trade pbk., $9.99 (US).
ISBN 978-1-4022-7054-3.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Karen Boyd.

*** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Advance Review Copy.



There’s silence, and then she yells again. Her voice is hysterical now. “EpiPen,” she yells. “Does anyone have an EpiPen?”

My blood, moments ago so hot, turns to ice. EpiPen?

“Get out of the way!” Zee yells from the deck, screaming at people to step back. A crowd’s gathered around Alex, blocking him. I’m frozen in place, afraid to go outside. The atmosphere inside the house transforms. No one looks sophisticated anymore. Everyone looks like kids. Scared little kids.

Samantha, 17, wants to fit in. She has just moved to a new town to be with a strong swim coach. She has an overprotective father, a new crush, and a grueling training schedule with high expectations. None of these compare to what happens when she attends her first party and flirts with her crush’s best friend. An innocent kiss given after eating a peanut butter sandwich results in Alex’s death. Samantha becomes an instant pariah, consumed by guilt, unable to see a way, or a reason, to move on with her life.

      As the mother of a child with a life-threatening allergy, reading this book written by a mother of a child with a life-threatening allergy was a tense experience. I felt connected to the sense of fear, of “what if”, that permeates this text. I did wonder if adolescent readers would feel that same sense, yet with the number of severe allergies that seem to be in schools now, it would be a fair assumption that most adolescents know of someone who they can relate to this story. It is an interesting perspective to think about this issue from those around the person with the allergy rather than the person with the allergy. Alex, and his death, is really only a catalyst for the story.

      Gurtler writes her main storyline with truth and compassion. The reader both sympathizes with Samantha while understanding the anger and grief of those close to Alex. Samantha is a well-written character, and Gurtler does an excellent job of documenting the stages of grief and guilt that Samantha moves through. The supporting characters respond in a way that seems honest, if at sometimes uncomfortable. Who I Kissed reads as an accurate presentation of high school and of the world of competitive swimming. The author has clearly done her research. Gurtler also takes the opportunity to educate the reader on anaphylactic allergies and asthma in a way that is informative and not at all preachy.

      Gurtler has a strong story with great characters, which is more than enough to carry this novel. In light of this, her numerous subplots: Casper, the rich boy who uses Samantha for marks, Casper’s somewhat step-sister who becomes pregnant by Casper, Samantha’s father and his long distance secretive relationship, Samantha’s aunt who left the corporate world to become a psychic, and Samantha’s dead mother who suffered with a mental illness and coincidentally competed against Alex’s mother. While many of these subplots were interesting in themselves (and many I wanted to have followed through), they were really unnecessary to the central story.

      Who I Kissed is a book that takes a new look at an adolescent issue. It informs and entertains. It provides numerous opportunities for thought and discussion. While the twist at the ending could have weakened the story, in many ways the process that Samantha had to go through to forgive herself and move on was necessary regardless of the incident with Alex. Gurtler’s book goes beyond the bright pink cover and romance-like title to effectively deal with some important issues.


Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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