Kiss & Make Up

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Kiss & Make Up Book Poster Image
Story of girl's psychic kissing power puts focus on looks.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers of Katie D. Anderson's debut novel, Kiss & Make Up, will get an idea of what high school is like in a private school in the American South: curriculum, class work, cliques, social activities, etc. The lead character, Emerson, works on a history project about the Jazz Age; she choreographs a dance based on music of the time, and her sister designs period hairstyles and costumes. Emerson struggles to get better grades, and the text includes a few science and math facts that she learns, too.

Positive Messages

Kiss and Make Up contains dome dubious mixed messages. On the one hand, Emerson learns important life lessons: the value of hard work, the personal rewards that come from being kind to others, and the fact that great friends can be found in any social group. However, the female characters remain heavily focused on makeup and appearance throughout. And the message that a girl would have to get science and math answers from a boy reinforces a stereotype about girls not being good at math and science.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emerson's aunt, Mary Archer (called "Arch"), is a devoted, hardworking surrogate parent to Emerson and her sister, Piper. Arch sells Stellar Cosmetics to women in their town; she places a high value on women and girls being well made up, but she also emphasizes school performance and shows a lot of love to the girls, and pride in their achievements. The girls' neighbors, the Wilsons, are an older couple who help Arch with the kids and provide a stable grandparent-like relationship, sharing their insights and experience with Arch and her girls.

Violence
Sex

Emerson does a lot of kissing in the book, and many kisses are described in detail, including some tongue action. In one scene, one couple makes out on a sofa, then they leave and another couple kisses. A boy reaches under a girl's shirt and removes the tissue she has stuffed into her bra.

Language

Chapter titles in Kiss & Make Up are all names of makeup shades, and one is called "Kick A$$ Crimson." There's also some name-calling: smart, less popular kids are called "dorks" and "ivies" (making fun of smart kids for being Ivy League-bound). After kissing several boys she doesn't love, Emerson inwardly wonders if she has become a "slut."

Consumerism

Coke, Sour Patch Kids candy.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of kids ask Emerson and her date if they have any beer. The kids leave the room when Emerson and her friend say they don't have any.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Kiss & Make Up is the story of a high school girl with a psychic ability to read the minds of those she kisses, who starts kissing studious boys just to steal the facts they've learned about science, math, etc. So, the book includes cheating at school plus a great deal of kissing, one boy feeling under a girl's shirt, and one swear word: ass. Some negative gender messages are disconcerting: There's a tremendous focus on makeup and girls' appearance; and the notion that a girl would have to get science and math answers from a boy reinforces a gender stereotype.

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Kid, 11 years old October 31, 2012

no idea

no idea good or bad ! must be fine

What's the story?

In KISS & MAKE UP, the main character, Emerson, and her older sister, Piper, are being raised by their aunt Arch (Mary Archer), who struggles to keep the girls in private school on her salary as a representative for the fictional Stellar Cosmetics company. Because of their aunt's job, the girls have unlimited access to makeup, and Emerson spends most of her time applying lip gloss, etc., and thinking about boys. Her grades are suffering from her lack of effort. However, after her first kiss with a boy, Emerson learns that she has inherited her mother's psychic ability to read the minds of people she kisses. She begins to use this talent to steal facts and figures from the minds of studious boys in her grade. When she develops feelings for a boy she really likes, she realizes she's wrong to use the other guys she's been kissing, but before she can mend her ways, friends start to find out about her loose lips.

Is it any good?

Kiss & Make Up works from a fairly clever concept (the idea that Emerson can read the minds of the people she kisses) and develops a pretty realistic high school world of cliques and outsiders. When she realizes she can take in all the facts and figures from a boy's brain, like an iPod syncing to a computer, Emerson faces a moral dilemma. Though her ESP is fantastical, the way she processes her options feels believable. However, Emerson's inability to think about almost anything other than boys and makeup becomes tiresome, and though the book offers deeper ways to think and care about life, the author still seems to suggest that wearing the right shade of gloss is a high priority. The book straddles a strange line, at once saying that hard work and inner beauty are meaningful, but still insisting that a teenage girl shouldn't leave the house without a full face of makeup. Whether this novel seems real, whimsical, and heartfelt or extremely shallow will depend on the reader's point of view.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the book's focus on, and use of, types of makeup. Does Emerson think too much about makeup, or is she just a normal teenager? Does the emphasis on makeup make the book more interesting?

  • In one chapter, a teacher decides to play a game where the students use their phones to text their answers to questions about chemistry. Do you think this is a good idea?

  • Do you think there's too much focus on girls' appearance in the media?

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