Review – Kissing Emma by Shappi Khorsandi

Book Review - Kissing Emma
Book Review - Kissing Emma

The illustration caught my eye and after reading the synopsis, I went in search of more information about the historical Emma Hamilton. After reading a brief bio, I was ready to read an updated homage to this interesting character.

I found Kissing Emma to be an accurate and disheartening representation of current stories you hear time and time again in the news: young people caught up in a spiral of poverty, addiction and/or domestic violence with very few positive options to escape.

Emma lived with her mum and dad .

For a long time, I wondered why God didn’t bless Sheila with kids. How could he have looked at lovely, kind Sheila and gone. ‘Nope. Not trusting you with a baby, ‘ but then looked at my dad and thought, ‘He’s fine, he can have one’?


3% into this book and its already apparent Emma’s dad is proper scary. A violent unpredictable thug who takes out his frustrations on the most vulnerable – his family – but is naturally the best mate going. After her dad’s unfortunate but welcomed death he’s remembered by friends as : “…a good man. Solid. Never backed out of a fight”

Like being a tough guys is the epitome

Emma is increasingly ostracized at school which doesn’t help her home situation. She’s  no longer terrorised, under the threat of violence but she’s not happy, secure or safe.

Poverty makes you desperate.

Desperation takes you to places you wouldn’t intentionally go.

Essentially Kissing Emma, is about searching for love, a home to call her own and finding herself. This is a difficult task for Emma, as while there are role models around her, they’re ones with low aspirations. Those who seek more in life, are not part of Emma’s family unit and so she’s not interested in listening to them. Meaning that it’s easy for Emma to make impulsive often poor decisions and unfortunately suffer the consequences.

 It is sad but relatable to see Emma running so far and fast away from her past, making choice after choice that will ultimately prove disastrous. Repeating the patterns of her mum, in her need to find someone to love, somewhere to belong.

Human resilience

Kissing Emma, clearly illustrated grooming techniques and the different presentation of predators. How it can be obvious and edgy or sophisticated and lightly done. It revealed that when your manipulated, you can find yourself degraded in the pursuit of connection, material goods or security. There’s nothing sexy about being coerced into something you don’t want to do, because it makes someone else happy. It’s a cliché, but if you don’t know yourself, value yourself, then you run the risk of others taking advantage, then liberties, until you cease to exist as an individual and become an extension of another.

As downbeat as the subject matter was, I wouldn’t say that Emma had hope and that kept her going. It was more that she didn’t lose her trustful nature, she got knocked down, got back up again and tried again. I’m not sure if that’s resilience or stupidity. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” Albert Einstein

Too much to summarise

In summary, reading this book made me further despair of this age of influencers and reality TV celebs, who want to be rich and famous but have no discernible skill or ability. Being good looking naturally, via surgery or the short-term fix of Adobe Photoshop, FaceApp and Instagram filters is not a job. How and why people get fulfilment from influencing is baffling to me. But I’m old and supremely grateful that social media wasn’t around when I was growing up. I still don’t understand how people proport that they’re empowered by being on sites like Only Fans, not realising the exploitative nature of this business, which is par for sex work. It’s not the punters or workers who are getting rich.

It’s easy for the reader to forget with all that’s she’s been through and what she’s doing that Emma is a child. She’s 16 year old and she shouldn’t have to think about STDs, coercion, domestic violence, let alone experience them. I haven’t mentioned Emma’s mum (who I couldn’t like despite her poor attempts at doing the best she could) or the various cast of characters who were a good support of real personalities living in inner city London, because this review is long enough as it is.

 Suffice to say, I found them and the situations they were in believable. Kissing Emma was thought provoking, concerning and a must read to see the intersections and ramifications of low educational achievement, domestic violence, and poverty.

A real peek into the challenges of modern urban living for a significant number of families. My thanks to NetGalley, author and publisher for a copy of this book in return for a candid review

3 Stars - Liked It
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Engrossed Reader

Reading whenever she can, often to the detriment of sleep. Enjoying most genres with preference for ebooks and audiobooks, mainly for convenience.

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