Shappi Khorsandi, Kissing Emma, Hachette Children’s Books, September 2021, 272 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781510106994
Inspired by the untold story of Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, acclaimed comedian and author Shappi Khorsandi has produced a most gripping novel. Kissing Emma tackles timely issues such as poverty, abusive relationships and toxic masculinity in a most brutally honest manner.
The novel follows the life of beautiful, yet vulnerable, Emma from childhood into her late-teens. Plagued by her abusive father’s death, Emma lives a poverty-stricken life with a mother who teaches that money is the answer to all their problems. Emma discovers that her natural beauty attracts an abundance of attention, and can perhaps be a financial solution. However, young and misguided, Emma becomes subject to body shaming, sexual harassment and being exploited by men who take advantage of her vulnerability. She is ‘rescued’ countless times by males who appear rich and loving; has she finally been saved by her desired knight in shining armour?
Kissing Emma is the type of book to evoke feelings of rage, sorrow, and pride from readers as the story builds in conflict. Emma is just one girl, yet she represents the reality that countless others face in society today. The novel explores how women are objectified and regarded as disposable. While heavy themes are dealt with, Shappi Khorsandi does this immaculately, tying in just the right amounts of humour and cultural references to appeal to a teen audience. Each chapter ends at a pivotal moment, encouraging readers to read on further.
Gripping, dark and powerful, I believe this is a most crucial read for upper-highschool students, a must read for boys and girls alike.
Reviewed by Olivia Sammut