Scarlett Wakefield is a dag among peacocks at the elite, private girls' school of St. Tabby's in London, making no effort with her appearance, putting her energy into gymnastics with her two friends Luce and Alison rather than shopping sprees and posing. Yet she wants to be a part of it all and hang out with the popular boys from the posh boys' school - especially Dan. So when Nadia Farouk, second-in-command to the princess of the school, Plum Saybourne, invites Scarlett - and only Scarlett - to sit with them by the fountain she jumps at the chance and leaves her friends behind.
Next thing she knows, she's been invited to Nadia's select party at her parents' penthouse apartment, at Plum's insistence. The chemistry is definitely there between her and Dan, and before you can say "teenage hormones" they're going in for a big intimate kiss - until Dan asphyxiates and dies in her arms and Plum's screaming that Scarlett killed him.
How did Dan die? Did Scarlett really kill him? Who left her a note saying it wasn't her fault, and what does this person know that Scarlett doesn't?
It took me far too long to read this light YA book with it's easy 260 pages, but I made it - only to discover that the story doesn't wrap up but continues in a sequel called Kisses and Lies. I'd be curious to know who's idea that was, because there seems no reason to split the story into two separate books except to make more money off unsuspecting teenagers.
It's not that there are any glaring problems with this book - there are lots of small ones. Scarlett is a pretty unexceptional protagonist, good at gymnastics and fun when she goes into spying mode, but reads like a carbon-copy teenager with a trust fund. Her biggest moral dilemma is her betrayal of Luce and Alison, who won't talk to her, but she's still the victim here. I never really came to like her.
It's also a very slow book. Nothing really happens until the last few chapters when Scarlett and her new friend, butch American girl Taylor, start their investigation - and even then, it's pretty quiet. Speaking of Taylor: Kiss Me Kill Me, while set in England, has a rather bizarre mix of British and US spelling and vocabulary that was rather distracting.
This is Henderson's first Young Adult novel; she previously wrote adult mysteries she calls "tart noir" and a nonfiction book called Jane Austen's Guide to Dating which I believe has been optioned for a movie. This isn't a bad YA book for a first try (ouch) but it does read like Henderson's still getting the feel for teenage characters and she's not really sure of herself yet.
There were many opportunities for some wise insights into certain aspects of teenage culture, British upper-class culture etc., but she shys away from all of them, leaving a sadly superfluous story featuring terribly superficial, stereotypical characters. It's also the kind of book where you can easily skip over whole paragraphs and not lose any of the story - just some of Scarlett's repetitive thought processes.
To top it off, the mystery's not terribly mysterious. I hope the sequel is more gripping than this, but I doubt I'll read it - not even to find out who "dunnit" or why. The only reason I'm not giving it just one star is because I feel like I've been mean enough already.