Kiss Her Once For Me by Alison Cochrun is the holiday themed story of Ellie Oliver, an aspiring animator living in Portland, who has apparently hit rock bottom. She’s no longer working at her very coveted job at an animation studio and is instead suffering as a barista in a local coffee shop. She’s living in a crapshoot of an apartment, at risk of getting evicted, and to top it off, she’s spending Christmas alone with only the memory of Last Christmas. To her credit, Ellie was also going to spend Last Christmas alone but she had a chance encounter, an actual meet-cute, with Jack – a tall, attractive and spirited woman – while reaching for the last copy of Fun Home at a bookstore. From there, Ellie and Jack spend a whirlwind of a day together that leaves Ellie with a broken heart.
As Ellie clings to the memory of Last Christmas with Jack, she tries turning her life around by going after the manager position at her job at the coffee shop. Except that her manager is a dick, natch, and tells her in front of the property owner that she didn’t get it. The property owner, Andrew, apparently resembles an expensive suit ad as he’s tailored and well dressed wearing expensive clothes and a beautiful face to match. He ends up taking Ellie out for a drink, after seeing that unfortunate scene and seeing her run off into the bathroom sobbing. She reluctantly agrees and goes with Andrew, not knowing what was about to unfold.
As they drink, Ellie tells him about her heartbreak from Last Christmas, and after chatting some more, he comes up with the crazy idea that they should get married and spend the Christmas holiday with his family at their cabin. Obviously Ellie thinks Andrew is out of his mind but it’s purely transactional to him – he needs to get married to access his inheritance from his grandfather. In exchange for marrying him, Ellie will get $200K. To her, and anyone really, that is a life changing amount of money. Logically she can’t agree but as the night progresses and they drink more, they make it official with a napkin contract. Ellie finds out the next morning that they indeed made things official, posting a “we’re engaged” photo on Andrew’s instagram. Given that she was already in too deep, Ellie goes with Andrew to his family’s cabin, not realizing that Andrew’s sister was the woman who broke her heart Last Christmas.
Now Ellie has to spend a week pretending to be engaged to Andrew while secretly still pining for Jack. Things get even more awkward as there is tension between Jack’s best friend Dylan and Andrew. Aside from that, Ellie is welcomed with open arms into Andrew’s family and their mansion of a cabin, as they prepare to spend the holidays together filled with scheduled activities and family bonding. Not having this kind of family or holiday experience gives Ellie a bit of nostalgia though she’s clearly overwhelmed. As the story progresses, Ellie struggles with keeping her feelings for Jack under wraps while trying to sell her and Andrew’s engagement to his family.
Common Themes + Opinions:
The main theme in this story is Ellie’s innate fear of failure. She grew up making herself small, given that her parents made it clear that she was unwanted so she did what she could to gain some sort of approval and acceptance from her mom and anyone that would give it to her. She found her niche in art and focused on becoming successful at it because of the attention it got her. However, once she hit a snag, she gave up on trying. She had her life planned out in this ten year plan that crumbled after she lost her job at the animation studio. And in her quest for some semblance of success, her fear of failure ended up making her into a self fulfilling prophecy where she’d give up before really trying and declare herself a failure after.
Ellie didn’t make her personality revolve around her talent, but around her failures. Given her family dynamic, it’s not surprising that all she can focus on is the negatives. It’s hard to see things in a positive lens when you have relatively no one in your corner cheering for you. I will say it was disheartening to see that she seemingly gave up on her goals at the first sign of difficulty, which reminds me of the symptoms of “the gifted child” and showcases a bit of her privilege; allowing her to repeatedly fall into her woe is me routine and perpetuate the cycle and self fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Also worth noting that in her cloud of negativity focused on failure, it did not allow her to think rationally at all. She keeps saying she got fired from her job when in reality, she got laid off. Which really made me think Ellie was being delusional about what really happened between her and Jack; we knew it was just one singular day and a lot can happen in a day but her saying she got her heart broken felt drastic. Even after finding out what really happened, I still felt as if it was irrational, intense and unrealistic, but could possibly happen in real life. I know love is sometimes inexplicable but the way Ellie recanted the events made it 10x more dramatic and parlayed into her woe is me routine where you want to feel bad for her despite not knowing the full story of what actually happened.
Final Thoughts + Ratings:
Overall, Kiss Her Once For Me was a cute holiday themed read though I promise you can read this whenever as the holiday vibes are light. It was my first queer romance, so I enjoyed seeing the representation and understanding what the relationship dynamic for a queer relationship could look like (spoiler: it’s better than most straight romance dynamics). I will admit I got increasingly annoyed at Ellie’s retelling of the events as we don’t find out what really went down between her and Jack until like halfway through the book.
At that point I was annoyed and wondered if this story was going to have a similar feel to “Funny You Should Ask” by Elissa Sussman – read my review for that book here – where she’s just being delusional about what actually happened between her and Jack. I was glad to finally find out, and even more pleased when Ellie herself admitted that it was irrational and illogical – we love a self aware main character! Despite that, I did enjoy some of the story and give Kiss Her Once For Me 3.5 stars. As for the spice, it does get a lil steamy between Ellie and Jack but this is somewhat of a slow burn, so you have to wait for it.
Have you read Kiss Her Once For Me? Let me know what you thought in the comments!