Saturday, 2 April 2011

Review: The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers

Dear blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): United under the banner of flash fiction, this is a collection of stories, or little 'cells', complete in themselves but connected by the overarching themes of betrayal and revenge. All featuring teenagers and often with an unexpected twist, these frighteningly realistic stories will take you to the very edge and beyond.

Review: This is a collection of short stories, so I'll review each one in a couple of sentences.
Cindy's Day Out- Is actually one of my least favourites,  which is a shame seeing as it's the one that kicks things off and is the reader's first impression of the book.  Cindy/Ursula is the cause of my dislike in this one; she was quite literally Cinderella (I wonder if this intentional: Cindy= Cinderella).  No, really. She has the same relationship with her family. She's hard done by in the same way. She even encounters a prince charming at the end, who I did like a little more. 
The Scientific Approach- I have mixed feelings about this one as well.  The story was nice, and for the couple of pages you meet him the narrator is likeable, but the writing style kind of let the rest of it down. It is full of short sentences.  Like this.  Maybe this was intended to be effective. It's a short, punchy short story. However. It did get on my nerves.  If you have a copy, you should read parts aloud and then you'll see what I mean.
Kangaroo- Is quite comical, but stays with the general theme of defiance and free will.  You might not expect such a story to be set in a theme park, and narrated by a snarky teenage girl in a kangaroo costume, but that's just what it is.  It's the kind of short story you can't not like, not when the narrator is stuck with such a summer job, and has such a likeable voice. 
Expulsion- Is written in letter form. This story made me feel entirely smug because I'm home-educated and, therefore, do not have to deal with such things as standing outside in the rain for two hours in that twisted form of education they call P.E.  However, I have heard much of this brutal activity from my school-going peers, and Expulsion brings it to life anyway.  The narrator's voice is so clear, so dry and so youthfully energetic it's irresistible.
The Tower- Is a creepy little story about a fifteen-year-old boy, his parents and the mysterious tower aforementioned boy discovers on their summer holiday.  It was average, I suppose, but for a lot of the story I wondered if it was actually going anywhere, and then the ending  was slightly rushed.
Up For It- Dialogue, and an entirely amusing one at that.  I don't know, it reminded me a lot of a sketch you might see on a television programme or something, there is something comedic about it, something amusing that I suppose you wouldn't see if you were actually in that situation; but looking from the outside as a reader, the banter does seem entertaining.
The God Debate- Is a nice contrasting dialogue from Up For It; this time it's about two boys at a private school, not observing beautiful women but talking about the deep stuff; id est, does God exist?  It seems like quite a typical Aidan Chambers piece in the way that it combines spirituality and philosophy with everyday life, and for that I like it.
The Kissing Game- is the title story in the book, one of the darkest and one of my favourites.  I suppose the thing I like about it the most is the way that Rosie and James' stories fit together so well.  She was sexually assaulted; he is alienated because of the way an innocent game turned out.  For all the secrets, though, the ending is quite sweet and uplifting.
Thrown Out- Is written in the same style as Expulsion, but not as...frank, I suppose is the best word, not as funny and...normal, but as someone who likes a) alternative existence and b)  living outside normality,  I love it anyway. The narrator's voice is so passionate and reasoning, you're instantly on his side, and his way of life seems to make total sense (I would totally do that if I wasn't so afraid of storms, and didn't want to go to university and such.  For one thing, where do you put a double bass in a little hut?).
Toska- As someone who studies Russian, I really like this one.  There isn't much plot to it; I suppose it's more like an explanation, a definition of Toska, a moment in someone's head. 
Like Life- Is another short dialogue, in which the word "like" is used eighteen times in little under three pages (Yes, I know.  I have no life.)  It's very open-ended, and more like a story than any of the other dialogues; and there are a million ways that it could go after it concludes.  Such is the brilliant thing about these stories; they're only a part of something much bigger.
Sanctuary- Is probably the darkest story in the book, dealing with illegal immigration and the sex slave trade.  Another one of my favourites; it's a longer piece, so there's a lot more depth to it, a definite beginning-middle-end.  What's not to like about it?  The writing style, which is the perfect balance of showing and telling? The characters, which are entirely three-dimensional? 
Weather Forecast- Another dialogue, this time between a man and a woman on the bus.  With reading this one I realised that the dialogues were probably my favourite parts of the book.  This one in particular.  It's so...awkward. Aidan Chambers says that the dialogues were influenced by the book One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, and in this "cell" in particular it shows -it's about the weather and our alleged national obsession with it.
Something to Tell You- Dialogue.  Was pretty similar to Up For It; it's like something you might see in a comedy sketch show; not because it's particularly amusing in a comic way, but because it's so realistic.  All those feelings of jealously and tension in a relationship are portrayed in an entirely amusing way, almost lightheartedly.
You Can Be Anything- I love this one.  I really, really do.  Excluding the dialogues it's one of the shortest stories in the book, a frantic rush of words and thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness manner that reads like poetry.  I like how it goes on in those extremely long sentences and weaves in bits and pieces of story, and then falters when curiosity and realisation sinks into the unnamed narrator.
A Handful of Wheat- Was written by Aidan aged seventeen, and seeing as the rest of the book features stories about teenagers, it seems kind of fitting to conclude with one that was written by a teenager.  It's quite...personal, I suppose, and even though it doesn't affect the reader as strongly you can certainly feel the emotion in it. 

In three words: short, creative, unique.
Recommended for: all fans of Aidan Chambers.  It's not as strong as some of his novels, and if you've never read any of his work before I'd suggest starting with one of them.  However, if you are, this anthology is well worth a read.
Rating: 3.5. 

Thank you to Random House UK for sending me a copy for review.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. By any chance can you explain the ending of the tower? have to do a project but don't understabnd the ending... confusing.. thanks!!!


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