Book Review: Never Been Kissed

Timothy Janovsky

Rating: 2 out of 5.

published: 3rd May 2022
spoilers? yes


Dear (never-been-quite-over-you) Crush,
It’s been a few years since we were together, but I can’t stop thinking about the time we almost…

Wren Roland has never been kissed, but he wants that movie-perfect ending more than anything. Feeling nostalgic on the eve of his birthday, he sends emails to all the boys he (ahem) loved before he came out. Morning brings the inevitable Oh God What Did I Do?, but he brushes that panic aside. Why stress about it? None of his could-have-beens are actually going to read the emails, much less respond. Right?

Enter Derick Haverford, Wren’s #1 pre-coming-out-crush and his drive-in theater’s new social media intern. Everyone claims he’s coasting on cinematic good looks and his father’s connections, but Wren has always known there’s much more to Derick than meets the eye. Too bad he doesn’t feel the same way about the infamous almost-kiss that once rocked Wren’s world.

Whatever. Wren’s no longer a closeted teenager; he can survive this. But as their hazy summer becomes consumed with a special project that may just save the struggling drive-in for good, Wren and Derick are drawn ever-closer…and maybe, finally, Wren’s dream of a perfect-kiss-before-the-credits is within reach.

Galley provided by publisher

Never Been Kissed is a perfectly sweet book. For the right person, I’m sure it’d click very well. Sadly, I must be a soulless ogre because I am so far from that person it seems, that it’s almost funny.

I think a lot of this came down to me not getting along with its tone and, more generally, the writing style. It was readable, but at the same time, quite basic contemporary romance fare, leaning more towards YA than adult (this is, after all, more new adult aimed). This is not the end of the world, I will admit. Which is where the tone part came in. A couple of personal dislikes here, really, the first of which is too many pop culture references. That’s something I can’t stand. The second was that there were too many asides that felt more like the author saying nudge nudge look I’m liberal and have the right opinions. Case in point, there was a comment about film directors, which led into a paragraph where the main character (a cis man) thought about how few opportunities there were for women and nonbinary directors. I do not need to be taken out of the story like that, to affirm that this main character thinks the Right Things.

The next issue I had was that there wasn’t really anything compelling about the book. The whole premise is that Derick ghosted Wren, but then later on returns and there’s tension. Only apologies for that ghosting are made and accepted within the first 50 pages and the tension deflates like a balloon. I made the mistake of putting this book down overnight and when I came back the next day I had absolutely no urge to pick it back up. The main character wasn’t at all interesting to me (and felt a little childish? As I said, this is a new adult book, but even so). Derick was, in fairness, but the lack of interest I had in Wren meant that I wasn’t really interested in their romance.

Perhaps this is what precipitated my complete lack of sympathy when it came to the angst at the end too. This was, quite frankly, stupid. Brief spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know, but

Derick didn’t tell Wren that his dad was shutting down the cinema. To which, Wren explodes and gets pissed off and does the whole third act break up schtick. Only. The closure of the cinema hasn’t really anything to do with Wren. That’s between Derick’s father and the cinema’s owner, not Wren. This is where I started to feel it was a little childish again. Because not only does Wren do this, but he’s fully aware that Derick feels under pressure from his father, and a lot of the book is him dealing with this pressure. So, okay, Wren can feel emotional over the closure and unhappy that Derick knew but didn’t tell him (frankly, given Wren’s reaction to the news, I can’t blame him choosing not to), but it felt blown way out of proportion to me. Hence, why I call it stupid. (Although, to be wholly fair, he does recognise he overreacted.)

The final point I had thought to make was how much the plotline with Mateo annoyed me. But then I wrote that long paragraph above, so I’ll try be brief here. Wren gets Mateo a job, but Mateo then dicks about the whole time, and when Wren rightfully snaps at him (because Wren’s job is on the line here too if Mateo fucks up), Wren is the one who has to apologise. This does get sorted out, I will allow, but for the most of the book, I was so frustrated by this storyline, that I couldn’t enjoy any of it—to the extent that I might have enjoyed it in any case.

But. You know the drill. Don’t let my review put you off, etc etc etc.

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