ARC review: Kissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman

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Neighbors and former best friends Jillian and Max haven’t really talked since Max’s dad suffered a major stroke.  Rather than dealing with his changed family dynamic, Max buried himself in an unhealthy relationship and the high school party scene. Now, instead of hanging out with Jillian, he spends his weekends getting drunk and making bad decisions.

Jillian knows that something’s up when Max knocks on her window late at night.  She also knows that no good will come from letting him in.  But there’s something in his sad, defeated expression that forces her to unlock the window, and it’s not long before they’re making out on her bedroom floor. It’s also not long before her dad walks in on them and forbids her from seeing Max anymore.

Though she swears that she’ll never kiss Max Holden again, her heart might not let her walk away so easily.

Minor spoilers below –

First things first, this is not some kind of cute, friends-to-lovers book about kissing neighbors.  This is a book about infidelity in not just one, but multiple relationships.  Infidelity is a tricky thing to write about.  I’d venture a guess that most people are anti-cheating – I know I am.  I just don’t see a point to it.  So for me to enjoy a book that has a cheating component, it better be pretty well done.  It can’t just be someone stringing along their partner for the sake of the plot.

Unfortunately, I felt like the cheating plot line was never really resolved here.  Both characters acknowledge that what they’re doing is wrong but spend the majority of the book excusing it.  The cheating is fine because Max’s girlfriend is a bad person. The cheating is fine because Max’s dad had a stroke.  The cheating is fine because Jill has a lot going on right now.  The cheating is not fine.  These characters are old enough to drive.  Old enough to get drunk at parties.  They are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

There’s a lot of misogyny in this book.  Max’s girlfriend, Becky, is painted as the crazy, over-the-top, sexually promiscuous villain. Now, Becky can be problematic at times.  She’s quick to anger.  She’s physically aggressive.  She tries to control Max’s behavior.  But does that justify Max cheating on her?  No, it doesn’t.  Max never seems to particularly like Becky.  Why not just break up with her?  Their continued (strained) relationship feels like just another hurdle for him and Jill to overcome.  Becky’s bad behavior feels like just another way to prove how much better of a person Jill is.

But is Jill really a better person?  I’m not convinced.  Jillian is so selfish.  She knows that what she’s doing is wrong, but she doesn’t care.  Not really.  She gets mad at Max for not breaking up with Becky, but she continues to hook up with him. She gets mad at her father for keeping secrets from his wife, but she takes a bribe from him in exchange for her silence.  She makes excuse after excuse for why she can’t tell her father that she and Max are together, and Max is the unreasonable one for expecting her to be honest.  Any time there’s a conflict, Jillian has to get her way because her life is just so complicated. Because her father would be so stressed out if she were to air her teenage melodrama.

Over the course of the book, I thought that Max really grew as a person.  He became less reckless and more responsible.  (I also admittedly have a soft spot for bad boys who are trying to be better.)  Jillian, unfortunately, did not. When I first finished this book, I thought I’d enjoyed it.  Looking back, I realize how many issues I had with the plot and the characters.  I’m actually surprised at the number of glowing reviews I’ve seen for this book.  All I can figure is that I’m no longer the target demographic.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

I received a free ARC of Kissing Max Holden from Macmillan/Swoon Reads via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.