We are so excited about the fact that 2022 is bursting at the seams with exciting new YA books for us to get our noses stuck into! One book that we have been very lucky to read before its release is Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram. If you’re a music stan (and let’s be honest, we know most of you reading this are!), then this book is a definite must. When it comes to fan culture, loving and supporting a band, and being devoted to artists you love, we know everything there is to know, but in Khorram’s new novel, we are able to experience the music industry from a different perspective which we don’t often get the chance to. Here’s why you need to add this book to your TBR immediately.
Summary: Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriend – leaked sexts, public heartbreak, and all–and now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens.
But Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photoshoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T’s shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the star of the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble—for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.
Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, bullying, slut-shaming
The artist POV feels pretty realistic and give us a different perspective.
Being stans ourselves, we are pretty aware of the often negative and inaccurate representations of fandoms, but Kiss & Tell has it pretty spot on. There’s clear undying love for the band from their fandom and the love is for sure reciprocated, but there are also examples of when some fans can cross the line, forgetting that the artist is, in fact, human and not just a product or fictional character. There’s a mix of the intimacy at meet & greets with fans showing their love and sharing their stories, but also the intensity and often backlash with a slight focus on cancel culture due to their favorite artist not living up to the idealistic expectations and how they are marketed by their label and management.
It’s quite often we see some fans unstan when their faves break out of the dream version in our heads and this is captured among some of the public reactions to different scenarios throughout the book, that Hunter finds himself in. But with the negative comes the positive and you can always see the loyal and respectful fans mingled in showing their unconditional support.
Other parts of stan culture such as fan fiction and shipping are also depicted really well. A further area explored with a keen eye is the parents of fans who, as we know, will often make their opinions heard, judging the kind of people their kids look up to. There’s also the scrutiny and expectation placed on artists, to take more than their fair share of responsibility when setting examples with how they live their lives. It leaves expectations of appearing perfect 24/7 rather than humans who make mistakes and learn and grow from them. All of this plays a part in the continuous attention and conversation surrounding Hunter, and we are reminded that the artist can see more of what is said about them than we believe.
There’s good LGBTQIA+ and POC representation.
Many of us grew up with quite a lack of diversity in our media representation, with Gen Z only now starting to get more mainstream inclusion in the content we consume. In Kiss & Tell there are a fair few LGBTQIA+ characters, with the main character Hunter being openly gay and his sexuality accepted amongst the fans, label, and media. There are also secondary and tertiary characters who are queer that are important to the plot of the story. The importance of using correct pronouns is also casually highlighted when it comes to the characters making up the LGBTQIA+ community, which contributes to the normalization we are working so hard to achieve in mainstream society.
Another important part of representation is the POC characters. We see the band Kiss & Tell with a POC majority rather than one or two tokenized members, and their opener band PAR-K also being Iranian Americans who make fusing the music between both their cultures, an important part of their sound. Throughout the book we are met with several small but important micro-aggressions that the POC characters face, some being as simple as their names being misspelled in the media.
Throughout the book we witness the characters deal with the extra pressures and struggles of being famous in an oppressed group, with some being in more than one, and how this impacts the way the media and society view them. The world was built with white cishet people in mind, and the music industry is not exempt from that. We really get to see how this affects the artists through Hunter and co. and the struggles that may not always be brought to light for fans to see.
The artist POV feels pretty realistic and give us a different perspective.
We aren’t famous singers in a band or celebrities in the public eye, so it’s quite difficult for us to really understand how anyone in the spotlight truly feels. But when reading Kiss & Tell, we couldn’t help but feel that members of famous groups like One Direction, BTS, and 5SOS, have more than likely had their own experiences that don’t stray all too far from those of Hunter Drake and his bandmates. Throughout the entirety of Kiss & Tell we experience the fan-artist relationship through the eyes of Hunter who is a teen heartthrob sensation with the world’s attention focused on him.
The kind of life we are made to believe that artists and celebrities live are more like fine-tuned versions of their raw and authentic real selves. There is this unspoken expectation of perfectionism in order for them to be admired, idolized and of course, in turn, sell the product. But in reality, these are like the equivalent of a slightly face-tuned selfie. The edited version is perfectionism and what is presented to the world and expected to be perceived as real. The unedited version may not fit into these unrealistic ideologies and may have quirks (described by some as “flaws”) but are still beautiful and not all too different from that edit. Throughout Kiss & Tell, we get to see Hunter’s authentic self and how he is able to switch the media-trained persona on for the world. There are still a lot of elements of himself but there are also some tweaks to the personality he puts on for the purpose of the public eye and to appeal more to fans.
We see how this is continuously altered by his label and management and how, with more pressure and stress of his personal life and public life unexpectedly colliding, Hunter has to put more effort in to play the part that’s expected from him. Kiss & Tell does a great job of showing what goes on when the cameras are off and the curtains close, the emotions and reactions that Hunter as an artist really feels.
The book feels pretty filmic.
When reading Kiss & Tell, it was pretty easy to envision the book, especially in a cinematic way. In between the main chapters that follow Hunter’s POV, we are given an outside perspective of how the world also views him. Khorram inserts different forms of media such as transcripts of a documentary the band is filming, emails between the label and management, entertainment blogs and magazine interviews, text messages, Hunter’s notebook pages, and even what’s trending on social media. It felt like a smooth and seamless transition between the chapters, almost like filler scenes or montages that you see in movies. If it’s easy to envision from a book, we’re pretty intrigued to see what potential Kiss & Tell has should it get a movie adaptation. And quite frankly, we’d be buying tickets to the first possible screening.
Overall, Kiss & Tell is enjoyable for anyone, but for anyone immersed in the music fandom culture, it feels like an exciting yet eye-opening look of what’s on the opposite side of the window we so often gaze into, reminding us that everything may not be as it seems. But just one word of warning: you may very well end up stanning a fictional band. It’s just one of those prices to pay for a great story!
Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram is out March 22nd and is available for pre-order now.
Will you be reading Kiss & Tell? What’s a book about music and fandom that you’d recommend? Let us know down in the comments below or by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP!
Need more books for your TBR? We gotchu
What's Your Reaction?
Creative Director of The Honey POP. Disney and pop culture enthusiast.