Despite ripping off the title from a Drew Barrymore movie, Never Been Kissed by Melody Carlson is a pretty good read for the YA (young adult) crowd. Instead of a soppy love story involving a girl and an otherwordly creature, Carlson writes a novel that addresses real teen issues—cyberbullying, sexting (sex texting), and dealing with insecurity. Instead of making her characters super mature or clueless morons, Carlson’s characters, though lacking dimension, are pretty true to how the average teen thinks.
The sordid tale begins when Elise Storton starts her junior year at a new school. The pretty 16 year-old finds herself landing in the lap of popularity when the cool kids accept her as one of their own, at least at first. When senior Asher Gordon develops a crush on Elise, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, he begins to send Elise secret e-mails about his feelings, which she reciprocates. All the while, on the surface, Elise pretends she hates Asher so his girlfriend (who he promises to dump after the homecoming dance) doesn’t get suspicious. Finally, Asher asks Elise to send him sexy pictures, something this Christian girl refuses to do. So imagine Elise’s surprise when she is arrested for sending Asher a pornographic image of herself naked!
Never Been Kissed is so different from the Christian teen novels I read when I was younger. Carlson’s characters are far from the perfect little Christians who never made any mistakes, always read their Bible, and were moral examples to tweens. Elise’s mother is a single mother who had her child while still in high school. Elise, though a Christian, still has to grow in her faith. She’s definitely flawed and very much a teenage girl.
However, the characters in Never Been Kissed are flat and lifeless. It is hard to empathize with Elise because she isn’t all that interesting. The “mean girls” are just mean and Elise’s friend, Stacie, is a typical needy freshman. Plus, the dialogue lacks dynamics. Still, this is a YA book, not an adult mystery.
This is a good book for any youth leader (especially those working with seventh-ninth graders) to share with a girls’ small group. It makes the issue of sexting, the Internet, and cyberbullying so much easier to talk about. Parents might want to buy this book for their teenage girls and have “the conversation.” All in all, Never Been Kissed is a good read for younger teens.
Amy’s Score: 3
Available January 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.