Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky
LGBTQIA Contemporary Romance
May 3, 2022 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Review by Kate H.
Wren Roland is about to graduate college. A passionate film buff, with two great best friends, Wren came out in the year before the book Never Been Kissed begins. His friends seem eager to help him socially, but Wren isn’t sure why his romantic and sexual experiences seem to be on a different timeline than everyone else. He’s 22 and he’s never been kissed.
One evening, early in the book, he is drunk and reading some unsent emails he had written to the four guys in his life that he had almost kissed, including his roommate Mateo and his friend from back home, Derrick. In his impaired state, he hits send on all four, triggering events that have him reliving and re-seeing these near kisses. Thanks to Mateo’s boyfriend, he learns about demisexuality and realizes that when he came out as gay, he had not finished realizing truths about himself and intimate relationships.
I have seen this book described as cute and sweet, which it is, and funny, too, but it is also a poignant exploration of how important what some might think of as merely “labels” – like asexual or demisexual – are to self-recognition. Once Wren knows who he is, he knows what to look for and ask for, so that his first kiss and all subsequent ones feel right.
The backdrop to this novel, the summer after college when Wren works as a manager at his hometown drive-in, is very much part of the narrative. The drive-in, redolent in summer memories of starlit nights and snack specials, is not doing too well financially and Wren is determined to keep it afloat. Derrick, his near kiss, has been hired to work promotions, establishing social media accounts, and drumming up interest in the shows. That tension might be enough in and of itself, but Janovsky layers in another narrative: Wren’s senior thesis is about Alice Kelly, a reclusive former director who disappeared when her movie premiere was undermined by critics (and her husband). Wren wants to get his hands on a print of the film and premiere it at the drive-in. Such an event will be a boon to the drive-in and to film lovers everywhere who have been wanting to see the movie. It is called, fittingly, Chomping at the Bit. By the end of the book, it all comes together, but I admit I had a few doubts along the way.
The ensemble of Wren and his friends is really entertaining, and I liked the scenes when they were all together. I didn’t have the easiest time connecting with Wren himself until midway through the book and in places his dialogue with Derrick sounded a little like an after school special. But I really enjoyed the way Janovsky showed us Derrick through Wren’s eyes, while still giving us clues as to Derrick’s real feelings.
This is really a slow, slow burn romance, but if you have any fondness for drive-ins, I think you’ll enjoy the wait.