Lip Gloss & Curling Heat: A Talk on First Kisses & Malinda Lo’s YA Novels

Illustration by Manuela Salvi

Illustration by Manuela Salvi

On Wednesday 18th May, the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL), my research centre at the University of Roehampton, held their annual ‘PhD Day’. This is a day where all of the children’s literature post-graduate research students gather and share a slice of our research from the most recent academic year. The title for my presentation was ‘Lip Gloss & Curling Heat: “First Kiss” Scenes and Malinda Lo’s Young Adult Science Fiction novels’.

For the last 6 months, I’ve been looking at Malinda Lo’s four YA novels: Ash (2009), Huntress (2010), Adaptation (2012) and its sequel Inheritance (2013). While the third chapter of my thesis examines all four novels, this talk focused on close readings from Adaptation. My research overall, as you might have gathered, focuses on lesbian loves stories. As such, I’ve been examining how those love stories are constructed–particularly when the two characters are teenagers who identify as lesbian/bisexual or are in a same-sex relationship. One narrative event that has become of great interest to me is the ‘first kiss’ scene. Thus, the first half of my talk looked at ‘first kiss’ scenes across a selection of lesbian YA novels in my corpus, including examples from The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012) by Emily M. Danforth, Everything Leads to You (2014) by Nina LaCour, and Empress of the World (2001) by Sara Ryan. I then focused on Lo’s novels with close readings of the ‘first kiss’ scenes between Reese and Amber, and Reese and David in Adaptation.

Why are the ‘first kiss’ scenes so important? I’m hoping to post a video of my talk soon so you can join in the conversation, or contact me if you’re working in a similar field. I’m always happy chatting about YA novels with LGBTQ characters!