Kissing Emma by Shappi Khorsandi

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When Emma’s mother is suspected of pushing her drunken abusive husband from their high-rise balcony, the attractive teenager is bullied and harassed by her peers. Eventually she is recognized at the new school after moving in with Nan, her aunt and cousins. Both Mo and Elliot, also around 15 yrs old, take advantage of Emma’s vulnerability and both dump her in quick succession. Emma’s two friends, Soreya and Mathilda, are the studious children of refugees and try to keep Emma on track to finish school. They stand by her as does her drama teacher, Mrs Delerosh, who nurtures Emma’s talents. But Emma starts to skip more school to earn extra cash to help her mother move into a flat of their own – hoping to ease the overcrowding problem and her relatives’ constant recriminations.

Joe and Zane “discover” Emma skiving off school and tell her they recruit models and assist them to become social media influencers. Suze, her unofficial Aunt, tries to warn Emma out of her relationship with a much older man. Suze is right about Zane whose intentions are more sinister. After deciding to leave Zane abruptly, she literally falls into the arms of a younger man, Cornelius (Con). He helps Emma and her mum find a flat, and escape Zane’s influence. But Con also proves unworthy. Can she learn to stand on her own feet?

Emma Hamilton’s character is based on Lord Nelson’s mistress – a beautiful ambitious woman very much exploited by aristocratic men. 21st Century Emma Hamilton is likewise the product of growing up with domestic violence where verbal threats, intimidation, class discrimination and physical abuse are normalized. Comedian, Shappi Khorsandi, demonstrates how Emma’s inexperience and low expectations for herself led her into unequal, exploitative romantic relationships. Recommended for seniors given the dark themes and sexual dialogue. 

Themes: Bildungsroman, Social media, Sex, Violence, School.

Deborah Robins