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ARC Review: Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

A smart, sexy YA novel about a boy band star, his first breakup, his first rebound, and what it means to be queer in the public eye, from award-winning author Adib Khorram

Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriend–leaked sexts, public heartbreak, and all–and now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens.

But Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photo shoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T’s shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the star of the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble—for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is one of the hardest books to review that I’ve read this year. Because I wasn’t invested in the main character, but I flew through it in 2 days, and a lot of it really hurt (so maybe I was invested in the mc after all?)…

I didn’t connect with the main character or the story / storytelling like I did with Darius the Great, and I prefer the quieter, geekier Darius.

However. This book does a fabulous job of making Hunter flawed and giving him character growth. He’s out as a gay member of a boy band, and he’s being torn apart by it.
a) He cares deeply and wants to do good for his community
b) he’s insecure and lets the Label push him into performing a specific kind of ‘queer’ identity even though he hates it.
c) he knows he has privilege because he is white but he still feels like he’s being attacked – because he is. Both from outside critics and the people at the Label who should be protecting him.
d) he’s hurting and angry and feels like he isn’t allowed to be which leads to resentment and lashing out.

The structure of the book works really well to highlight how unfair it all is. Interspersing the story with snippets from critical articles, text messages, comments, interviews, etc. really drives home how awful it is to be famous and have all these people feeling entitled to weigh in on things that should be private.

I have recently discovered BTS (I know, behind the times) and seeing some of the ways their fans (and detractors) treat them made this book feel very real and also hurt more than it would have, I think.

I do think it all gets resolved too easily at the end, but I am willing to believe that once Hunter opens up to his fellow band members and manager that things will change. We don’t get to see any of that change though, so it ends up being a whole lot of pain without really feeling like things are getting better. It’s like a hurt/comfort story but without the comfort and with a whole lot of hurt.

I also think that Hunter’s fellow band members could have used a lot more fleshing out. I still can’t keep most of them straight and even the ones that feel like their own characters are very cardboard cutout-y.

I have read a couple of other queer boy/girl band books recently and they captured my attention and emotions more easily because they gave POV chapters to more of the band members and so everyone felt more well-rounded.

Despite its flaws, however, this book is worth a read if only as a critique of how we treat famous people in general and boy bands in particular, especially ones with members who are queer and out (or not).

*Thanks to Bookishfirst and Dial Books for providing a copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I don’t know who it was that woke up one day and decided to strap knives to their feet, but I’m glad they did.

He smiles at me like I’m a camera.