When We Look Back


In the end, I think I know that high school doesn’t matter. It will just be another four years of my life. Heck.  I don’t remember clearly five years of my life, from first grade to fifth. I don’t even think I remember middle school that well either.

Why do we care so much, then? Because we’re in the moment. Because that’s all we know, sadly. I know that when I will look at high school, I won’t even remember the names of half the people and why exactly I was fixated on something. I won’t remember.

Alas, though. I am still in that phase where I’m in the limbo between being an awkward adult and a child at the same time. Charming.

Last week, Hogarth sent me a box of four books and a tote bag. I picked up The Kissing List, by Stephanie Reent, for the very simple reason that it was going to be published this month.

I opened the book, unsure of what to expect. There’s a certain grace and charm of the writing. Very poetic and rhythmic, a little like Annie Dillard. I had found a book that I had sought to seek out, the search that I began earlier this year.  The novel was written well and thought provoking.

The Kissing List is a compilation of stories that are all interconnected, which normally isn’t my favorite type, but the novel flowed oh so seamlessly together that I didn’t mind.  The stories portray women who “bravely defy expectations and take courageous chances in the face of a life that might turn out to be anything less than extraordinary (from the back of the book).” At first, before I had even opened the cover of the book, I was so confused at the summary even meant. “In the face of a life that might turn out to be anything less than extraordinary”? What did that even mean? Really? However, I read more of the book, I understood a little. Life will not be the dream that we wanted it to be and we have to face that, with our own will and strength to change or discover what we can. That’s what the novel meant for me.

Short stories usually make me feel incomplete because they’re so short and there’s no chance of a continuation or else the story would be a novel instead of a short story. In The Kissing List stories, there’s a slow lull of the stories, a little voice that remains constant in each, the characters so… real that I feel complete, oddly enough.

But that’s not the  real reason why I’m writing this post. Not really. The Kissing List is a really amazing book, despite the fact that my efforts at saying so in an intellectual way becomes garbled into awkward phrases and clichés that are reminiscent of Google Translate.

I’m writing this because I stumbled onto a story where I could go like, “This is probably going to be the same exact way I’ll feel!” When the novel is arranged into a collection of stories, I have an excuse to not read in order, though it’ll probably be best if you do.

The story is entitled, “This is Just to Say”, which is a story about finding out that your BFFY (Best Friend From Youth) is writing a memoir about junior high school because your BFFY named Radhika (that’s how she’s addressed in the story, your BFFY) explains, “Sometimes in the middle of a long stretch of writing when I’m trying to explain something that happened in junior high… I’ll stop and wonder: Is anyone going to care about this?” The answer as we all know is, “No, not really.” No one is going to care what you did in high school, unless you’re famous.

Towards the end of the story, when the reminisces about junior high and high school are nearly waning, you comment, “Jealousy, insecurity, anger, fear-you can no longer remember all the reasons for the feelings-but these emotions never go away completely. This is why you will be surprised to learn that you are only a minor character in the section of her [your BFFY] teenage years-or even, to find no trace of yourself at all.”
Do you see what I mean?  The Kissing List is so well written that it can summarize my entire (future) feelings about high school in one cute little story.

I’m not even out of high school yet (when is this going to be over?!!!) and I’m already feeling this poignantly. That’s the power of Stephanie Reent’s writing-to make me feel emotions and to reflect on my own experiences.

I’m flipping through a diary, which had a lock. I naively believed that it would be the keeper of my secrets and that only I, with a key, would be able to open it. Oh, how young I was! Anyways, I found an entry with the date “3/13”. It goes something like this, “I am so angry. I don’t even know why she hates me. As long as she’ll hate me, I’ll hate her back. She looks at me and sneers. Why?! I don’t know.”

Judging by the big scrawl, this was at least five years ago. I don’t know and don’t remember who “she” is or even if it’s the same “she” that I mentioned five entries ago. I only remember that there’s I was annoyed. I don’t know why, and looking back, I feel wisps of that feeling toward a girl who I don’t recall and whose face I don’t remember.

So far, Hogarth has made a good pick in publishing The Kissing List, and I can’t wait to read the next 3 books! I hope they’ll be as good as this one.

Categories that the novel is filed under: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Literary 

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Maira Gall