Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lips Touch: an alluring fantasy for teens (ages 13 and up)

A first kiss: it can change lives for better, but it can also lead to far more than you expect. In Lips Touch: Three Times, three stories explore the consequences of a first kiss, and the dark longing that can sometimes result.  Teens will be drawn to this collection by its cover and will love its combination of fantasy, romance and horror.  But best of all, Taylor's writing is lush, descriptive and beautifully crafted.
Lips Touch: Three Times
written by Laini Taylor
illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo
NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009
ages 13 - 18
Lips Touch is a collection of short stories, each of which intertwines elements of folklore, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and fantasy.  While each story is about the power of yearning and lust, each story is completely different.  In “Goblin Fruit”, Kizzy yearns for love, even though she knows the tricks that goblins will use to steal girls’ souls. When a magnetic new student in her high school pays her attention, will she have the strength to resist him?

Taylor's writing drew me in from the very first page.  Here is her opening:
     There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave.  You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her.  The pert, lovely ones with the butterfly tatoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends' laps? No, not them.  The ones watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends' laps? Yes.
     The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood.  The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up someone as else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.
Like Kizzy.
Wow.  From this beginning, I was hooked.  Taylor's writing develops in a richly layered, fascinating way with vivid imagery and intricate worlds.  In “Spicy Little Curses Such as These”, Anamique, a young woman who has been silenced forever by a demon's spell cast upon her at birth, falls in love with an emotionally scarred English soldier in post-World War I India. Her love might unleash the terrible consequences of her curse, if she chooses to believe it. In “Hatchling”, Esme wakes up on her 14th birthday seeing memories that clearly are not her memories. Whose can they be? This longest and most complicated of the three stories develops a fantasy world of immortals whose leader steals human babies to raise as her special pets.

Each story in this collection is preceded by a series of illustrations that entice the reader with a background to the story, a glimpse into the story that comes before the short story.  Artist, Jim DiBartolo, said in an interview at the wonderful blog 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast, "Our hope was that the reader would be able to get a vague idea about what was happening to that character, but still be somewhat in the dark. Then, when the text of Laini’s stories began, the reader would have these lingering questions about what they had just seen. So as you read each story, the tale told in the prelude artwork would click into place as her story unfolded. It was potentially a risky concept, but we’ve gotten a lot of feedback via e-mail and at signings where people “got it” so to speak and we’re just thrilled!" The illustrations are fascinating and intriguing.  I found myself lingering over them, wondering about what story they told, and then going back to them while I read the stories with many "ah-ah" moments.

Teens will be drawn by the vivid cover, and will respond to the blend of sensuality, mythology and magic. My concern is that girls in middle school will be drawn by the cover, but will be confused by the complex story-telling and the background knowledge needed, especially the British colonial setting in India, the Hindu concepts of hell, and the nonlinear narrative structure. However, middle school readers will be able to connect to some of the universal themes, particularly in the first story where Kizzy longs to be pretty and this yearning attracts the goblin's attention.

Below is a limited preview of the book using Google Books.  Scroll through the first pages to see the artwork for the first story, "Goblin Fruit".

I highly recommend this collection. Even if middle school students don't understand all of the layers of the stories, Taylor's writing is beautiful. This will be a work that teens will go back to years later, gleaning more from each story as they reread it.

Lips Touch was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award, for Young People's Literature.  The citation said, "Lips Touch pulses with vivid imagery yet remains economical in its world-building, its unpredictable plot-spinning, and its compassionate characterization."  It was also listed as one of the top five Young Adult books for 2009 by National Public Radio.  For a wonderful review, see Jen Robinson's Book Page.

Find Lips Touch at your local public library using WorldCat, or at a bookstore near you. If you purchase it through Amazon using these links, a small commission will go to Great Kid Books.


  1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one, too, Mary Ann. Thanks for linking to my review!

  2. Love your blog!

    Crammed with great suggestions on what to read :)