Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman

* * * 1/2

Kissing Max Holden was a terrible idea...

After his father has a life-altering stroke, Max Holden isn't himself. As his long-time friend, Jillian Eldridge only wants to help him, but she doesn't know how. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows that she shouldn't let him kiss her. But she can't resist, and when they're caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it'll never happen again. Because kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.

With a new baby sibling on the way, her parents fighting all the time, and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending more and more time with Max. And even though her father disapproves and Max still has a girlfriend, not kissing Max is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and allow their friendship to blossom into something more, or will she listen to her head and stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

It's been some time since I've read anything bordering on angsty and Kissing Max Holden is being hit with it on almost every page. I know it sounds like I'm disparaging the book but I'm not; it's just that this story features people who are deeply discontented and how they deal (rather badly) with their circumstances. 

Jillian and Max have been friends forever, essentially having been each other's shadow since childhood with their parents being just as good friends. But as it happens as years go by, they grow up and apart and then it seems like they're hardly recognizable to each other. At least that's how Jill feels about Max. Ever since his dad had a debilitating stroke months before, Max has done nothing but lash out in various ways like getting drunk, and it's fueled in part by his tempestuous relationship with his girlfriend, Becky. Jill doesn't get why two people who are so miserable together would still wanted to stay together. Max makes things awkward when he shows up inebriated in her room one night and they wind up kissing. Not cool since he still has a girlfriend but it's all that's needed to send Jill into a spiral. Worse is that she doesn't feel she can confide in anyone about what's going on since her dad and her stepmom who are expecting their baby soon are constantly fighting, too. Jill and her dad haven't been on the best terms lately so it only makes matters worse when he notices Max hanging around her more. He doesn't want his bad behaviour influencing her. It just seems like everyone is trying to escape something by finding a distraction and when Jill finally gets her head cleared she tells Max she doesn't want to be the reason he and Becky break up. That he has to get things in order before they can be together. 

With almost everyone simmering in their own bitterness this isn't a light-hearted read. If anything, this is a story about how hard relationships are and about the value of honesty. I find it interesting that Jill's initial indiscretion with Max serves as a parallel to what's happening between her parents. It brings some perspective to the seventeen year-old who's witnessing her own family's implosion. By contrast, Max's turnaround is a timely change that gives Jill a steadying shoulder to lean on should she need it. Now that he's attempting to clean up his messes, he's able to offer insight and persuade Jill that she has to be honest about their relationship to her parents. 

There's more that unfolds in the plot which spurs Jill on towards maturity much faster than she anticipated. I'm amazed by how Upperman managed to add the twists without it getting too out of hand. In the end, Kissing Max Holden is not the sugary sweet, cute boy next door love story I thought I was going to be reading but I do believe I got something even better!

~ Bel

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