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The thwump of blood in your ears as you take the forbidden swig of liquor in a circle of giggles and sharp whispers. The sight of your father growing smaller in your rear-view mirror after you emptied your dresser into your backseat, because he had no idea what was best for you. The dizzy consequence of a secret kiss, warm and unwieldy. Elissa Janine Hoole layers a collage of what it means to be eighteen, free, and on the road in her debut novel Kiss the Morning Star.
The story follows two best friends from the Midwest on a road trip the summer after their high school graduation. A healthy amount of tension is handed to the reader in the beginning chapters as we are introduced to the protagonist, Anna. Her mother has recently died, inducing an emotionally vacant father and Anna’s own loss of faith. We also learn that Anna is concerned with her virginity and frequently questions her own sexuality, especially when with her best friend Kat.
The narrative tensions revealed in these chapters carefully establish that the girls are about to embark on a pilgrimage that is both religious and sexual. The novel cannily reflects the conflicting tensions and weighty emotions of early adulthood and it will surely evoke memories of the readers’ own adolescent desires, questions, and feelings.
Their travels take them on a fantastical journey that often pushes the boundaries of reality—they meet a Pastor bent on taking them on a mission in Mexico, they accidentally take acid with a van of long haired boys, and they even meet head to head with a bear in the back country. While these adventures and misadventures often seem unbelievable, the reality of Kat and Anna’s relationship, as well as their understanding of God and spirituality becomes increasingly real and tangible.
The book prides itself in being akin to The Dharma Bums and each chapter begins with a Kerouac haiku. Hoole’s prose, however, strays far from the work of Kerouac. She frequently repeats ideas and descriptions and provides lengthy explanations when they aren’t necessary. By completely foregoing the age-old fiction adage “show, don’t tell,” Hoole disables the reader from making any connections for themselves.
There are some truly Kerouac-esqe gems however, beautiful sentences which kept me turning the pages. The first one I came across and my favorite: “A gruesome flash of ravens as we pass.” The text messages shared between Anna and her father throughout the trip also prove to be reminiscent of The Dharma Bums. They are thoughtful and innovative replications of the ancient Japanese poems, simple in form yet brimming with meaning.
While the characters’ actions and much of the prose realistically reflects the melodrama and emotions of teenage girls, the dialogue between them is not as skillfully accomplished.This is unfortunate as a large majority of the book is composed of dialogue. The conversations between Anna and Kat often feel unnatural and awkward. They seldom reveal anything about the characters or push the plot forward. For a book openly expressing the influence of Kerouac, this is disappointing. It replaces the pop and awe of Kerouac’s dialogue with conversations that sometimes feels flat and forced.
Overall, I am confident that the soul of this book’s story will connect with young female readers. The story successfully brings us into the emotional world of teenage girls and relates well to our own adolescent anxieties and desires. Some of Hoole’s scenes were so thoughtful and exact, they conjured up images of my first burning cough after a drink of hard liquor or my nervous stomach before my first kiss. Young readers will also identify with Anna and Kat’s struggle to answer the bigger questions about sexuality and religion.
Kiss the Morning Star
By Elissa Janine Hoole
Amazon Children’s Publishing
Hardcover, 9780761462699, 256 pp.