YA Kisses Done Wrong and Done Right (part II)

I think everyone can remember the first time they were reading a book and a kiss scene did… that. You know, made you think “hmm, maybe kissing another person isn’t gross and I might want to do it.” I also know that for every one of those scenes there are probably about 20 from other young adult literature that are terribly unrealistic and weirdly described. Then there are the books that are great: vibrant characters, exciting plot, a romance that enhances the story and makes sense within the boundaries of character. And then we get to the Big Kiss Scene, and it’s just…not what it should be.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into my memory and see what romantic moments did or didn’t pique my teenage interest.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Here’s the thing. Harry Potter is a unique series in that it basically defined young adult literature as a category and therefore is exempt from most of my judgements about the genre as a whole. I also, though, maintain the belief that Harry Potter is the kind of series that grew up with its readers, so that the seventh book of the series is for a whole nother class of readers than the first.

Relating to romance specifically, we see that most clearly in the development of arguably the two most important and present relationships: Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny. The juvenile pigtail yanking into will-they-won’t-they that was the progression of Ron and Hermione was a hugely defining romance in my childhood. Harry and Ginny’s was also defining, but that was because of a single kiss rather than a seven book arc.

Basically, in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we really only get two kisses, and one of them is good and one of them is, objectively, not. Here’s why.

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione’s first kiss is a triumph of character building. It’s two characters who are decidedly not made for each other, are not even a little bit soulmates (an otter and a terrier, I mean, come on), but still manage to be one of the strongest romantic pairings in the series. It’s because they understand that what makes the other different is what makes them the best, and I’ll admit that when they kisses my insides melted into mush.

HOWEVER. When you go back and do a greatest hits tour of Ron and Hermione moments, the kiss as a standalone scene is anticlimactic. It’s not satisfying. It’s mostly just swaying and explosions.

There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.

“Is this the moment?” Harry asked weakly, and then when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “OI! There’s a war going on here!”

It reads, to me, like a list of checkpoints: arms around neck, enthusiasm, tighter holding, a touch of humor and danger to bring them back to reality. The whole “now or never trope” is only strengthened by the fact that Ron literally says, “it’s now or never.”

I understand the limitations J.K. is working under. Because it’s from Harry’s perspective, we can’t get any sensory details, because obviously Harry isn’t smelling Hermione’s hair and he doesn’t have his arms around Ron’s neck. But there could have been a pause in the relentless forward plod of plot that could have explored it from Harry’s perspective. He if it’s “the moment,” so we know he’s been waiting for this. What do the pair of them look like? How does Harry feel about it?

Give me something. Give me anything, beyond “gripped each other even more firmly and swayed on the spot.” It doesn’t feel like a kiss I waited seven books for. It feels like an awkward middle school slow dance.

Ginny and Harry

Ginny and Harry’s kiss feels like the exact opposite of Ron and Hermione’s. The confluence of events that lead up to it just set it up to be better written, so I don’t want this to sound like I think Ginny and Harry are a better pairing than Ron and Hermione. I’m not going to pass judgement on that. Their kiss is just objectively better.

Because it’s at the beginning of the book and not at the end, we’re able to take a pause from the plot. Because it’s from Harry’s perspective, we can get some more imagery beyond what a third-party observer would see. And, because it’s not their first kiss, J.K. had to know she couldn’t satisfy her readers only with the fact that it happened. She did that in Half-Blood Prince with Harry and Ginny and the whole “blazing look” thing, and reading that again would have been pointless.

So, instead, we get one of those kisses that eleven-year-old me would go back to over and over again, thinking about when I would go off on a dangerous mission and maybe this would happen to me.

“There’s the silver lining I’ve been looking for,” she whispered, and then she was kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than firewhiskey; she was the only real thing in the world, Ginny, the feel of her, on hand at her back and on in her long, sweet-smelling hair–

It’s just a well-written kiss. The fact that it’s a drawn out run-on sentence, like Harry can’t reign in his thoughts. The metaphor mixed with the concrete details mixed with the vague details that give more to the older readers than they do to the younger. The fact that it starts off as playful banter, because that’s exactly the sort of relationship that Ginny and Harry have.

It’s a good kiss. I don’t know what else I can say beyond that, other than the fact that it makes me sad for Ron and Hermione, because I know what J.K. is capable of and I know she didn’t do their first kiss justice.

I would, however, like to leave everyone on a sweet Ron and Hermione moment just because they deserve it:

Ron had had a fit of gallantry and insisted that Hermione sleep on the cushions from the sofa, so that her silhouette was raised above his. Her arm curved to the floor, her fingers inches from Ron’s. Harry wondered whether they had fallen asleep holding hands. The idea made him feel strangely lonely.

That’s the Ron and Hermione we know and love. Here’s to all the kisses they’ll have in the future that’ll be better than the first.

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