Penny and Tate have always clashed. Unfortunately, their mothers are lifelong best friends, so the girls’ bickering has carried them through playdates, tragedy, and more than one rom-com marathon with the Moms. When Penny’s mother decides to become a living donor to Tate’s mom, ending her wait for a liver transplant, things from clashing to cataclysmic. Because in order to help their families recover physically, emotionally, and financially, the Moms combine their households the summer before senior year.
So Penny and Tate make a pact: They’ll play nice. Be the drama-free daughters their mothers need through this scary and hopeful time. There’s only one little hitch in their plan: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their entire teenaged existence.
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across the hall from each other. And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever.
This is one of those books where even though characters are in and around love of all kinds, it sort of breaks your heart the whole way through. It’s not often a buoyant, easy love of light. It’s a quieter, maybe more desperate love tinged with their shared histories and pain. A perfect quote to sum up the vibe:
Scratches give it character. Nothing in life comes out unscathed.
As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a good amount of tension in their interactions given the six times they almost kiss. It’s told in two timelines, with the current-day taking up some of it, and the reflections on past near-kisses and other dominating events alternating in. This worked for me in this story because it broke up some of the fear and worry of the current-day narrative with their moms getting surgery.
If you think there’s going to be some lightness from the “forced proximity” trope, you’re wrong. It was still a bit dark and hurtful in ways. Neither character embodied or created that themselves, but their situations just sucked for each of them. It felt like one was wrapped in thorns, and the other in barbed wire, and any attempt they made to free themselves or help the other just ended up making things worse for both of them. Yo, it was really hard to read. Was this book meant to be this sad?
The cover is misleading too, as cute as it is. This book deals with heavy, difficult topics. Like death, and depression, and chronic illness, and caretaking fatigue, and poverty, and homophobia, and class poverty, and blame, and like a million other things. They’re all tied up in each other so much that it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to take on too much at once, but damn it was not an easy read for me.
All this is not to say the book is bad, or I didn’t like it, or it shouldn’t be read. It’s just… know what you’re going into. It’s more bittersweet than just sweet, and the road there is not easy. For all that it covers, it’s remarkably well done.
Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for a free advanced copy. This is my honest review.