The romance genre differs from mainstream literature, science fiction, or the mystery genre in an important aspect: romances are first and foremostly about the growth of love between a man and a woman.
Usually that growth takes place in and around other events. There may be a mystery to solve, a threat to the heroine to be overcome, or a mission for the hero to accomplish. For the most part, this is not true for That First Special Kiss.
Kelly Morrison's father abandoned her and her mother when Kelly was quite small; her mother died when she was eleven. Kelly spent her adolescence in a foster home where she met her "heart sister," Brynn Larkin.
A year and a half before the story begins, Kelly and Brynn move to Dallas, form a circle of friends, and become part of the large, close-knit Walker family…Brynn by birthright, Kelly by adoption.
Shane Walker also had a rocky childhood. His mother was an alcoholic who was awarded custody when Shane's parents divorced. It wasn't until Shane ran away at age 12 that his father finally understood how desperate Shane's home situation had become. Since then, however, his father has made a loving home for Shane and has given him the security that Kelly lacked throughout her adolescence.
Even though Kelly is attracted to Shane -- and Shane to Kelly -- she worries that if they date, then break up, she will be dropped from their circle of friends and excluded from the Walker clan. She will lose her whole support system.
She begins dating Shane anyhow, but extracts a promise that he will continue to pretend that they are just friends. The result is a series of awkward situations that strain their budding relationship.
That First Special Kiss does include one major and several minor incidents peripheral to the romance. The major episode is treated in what struck me as a strangely off-hand manner, but one of the minor events…Shane's half sister's disastrous slumber party…is handled appealingly. Most of the book, however, focuses on Kelly's worries.
Kelly worries a lot. She worries about having been abandoned by her father (understandable), she worries about what will happen if she and Shane break up (somewhat understandable), and she worries that Shane's inability to express his anger with his own father and with her will wreck their relationship.
I had a lot of trouble with the last. Frankly, I thought that Shane was expressing his anger just fine. He snapped at Kelly; he slammed doors. He didn't call Kelly names or break valuable objects. But Kelly…and his father…wanted him to analyze the causes of his anger.
I thought the causes were plain. His father abandoned him for almost 12 years, and Kelly was acting like an idiot. I couldn't figure out why in the world Shane had to spell anything out more explicitly. And the psychoanalytical nonsense both Kelly and Shane’s father directed at Shane was highly annoying.
If this doesn't bother you…or, better yet, if you agree with it…you may enjoy this slight romance. Otherwise, steer clear.
--Nancy J. Silberstein