There’s something glorious about witnessing an all-time great cinematic kiss. Casablanca, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Slumdog Millionaire … if you’re not standing up in your seat by the end, where’s your soul? These picture perfect moments call to those looking for a whirlwind romance of their own.
Wren Roland is one such hopeless romantic. The only one of his friends not to have a first kiss at the ripe old age of 22, he is facing his last summer working at his beloved hometown drive-in movie theater. He can’t help but long for a kiss that lives up to his Hollywood dreams. But he’s never had the emotional connection he needs to make that moment happen — except with his old crush and former best friend Derick Haverford. It’s been years since an aborted romantic moment changed everything for Wren, and they haven’t seen each other since. One drunken night leads to Wren accidentally sending emails to all four of his “almost kisses” over the years, including Derick. Wren’s sure nothing will come of it (aside from his own embarrassment, that is). But when Wren’s boss hires Derick to help revitalize the dying drive-in, Wren soon finds that happy endings might not be just for the big screen after all.
For anyone who loves a good old fashioned romance, Never Been Kissed is for you. Wren is a cinephile, and his extensive references to film history are fun Easter eggs for any film buff. I adored a subplot involving an aging film director and Wren’s efforts to woo her into sharing her masterpiece for the first time. The novel’s plot is structured like a classic rom-com down to the summer setting and slow burn relationship. It’s like comfort food in an entertaining, earnest package, and it’s sure to delight readers with its small town charm.
But by far the best part of Never Been Kissed is the sensitive and loving way it portrays demisexuality. Wren’s journey to discovering a new facet of his identity feel organic and grounded in reality. Aside from some gentle ribbing from his friends, Wren is allowed the space to take his time, both with his relationship with Derick and with his growing realization that “gay” as a label doesn’t encompass all that he feels. Coming out later in life and developing a new understanding of one’s queer identity is common, but rarely explored with such depth. With identities under the asexual umbrella still severely underrepresented in media, it is all the more vital that stories like Never Been Kissed exist.
In Never Been Kissed, Timothy Janovsky creates a screen-worthy love story that also functions as a thoughtful exploration of demisexuality and the many ways we love each other. It is available now wherever books are sold. Never Been Kissed is the first book in the Boy Meets Boy series, with holiday romance You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince hitting shelves October 4, 2022.