Lips Touch by Laini Taylor and with illustrator Jim Di Bartolo is one of the nominees for this year’s National Book Award. I’m going to go out on a limb and say — even without reading the other two nominees just yet — that this is going to be the winner.
This book is fantastic, it is beautiful, and it is a book worthy of such an accolade. Although this definitely strikes me as a book that would speak in that way to an awards committee, this is also a book with high appeal, though it’s definitely going to appeal most to those who love fantasy, mythology, or fairy tale worlds and older teens. That’s not to say it’s got a lot of questionable content that wouldn’t be appropriate for younger teens but more because it is written in a very sophisticated manner with dense language. And the allusions and depth Taylor has is going to be most appreciated by those with a little reading and literary currency.
Lips Touch is a series of three short stories that revolve around kissing. They’re wildly different but are related through that common theme. Each story is preceded by a few pages of fantastic illustration by Di Bartolo which tell the story graphically. The art uses red, black, and grey to set the tone and the colors are throughout the book, as titles, page numbers, and chapter titles are red themselves. The extra money that the publisher spent on the color was well spent and as a reader, I just loved the beautiful book itself. Sorry Kindle users, but you will miss out on a piece of art.
The first story is an exploration of Christina Rosetti’s famous poem “Goblin Market.” This a poem that, like Taylor, I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. Kizzy, the main character in the story, is one of those girls who wishes she had the boys interested in her like others in her class do. She never will, of course, because she’s not that attractive and well, she has a very, very weird family.
That is, of course, until a new boy comes to town and rouses the goblins. Will they ruin her or him? Will they ever get to experience a true kiss or will they become victims of the goblins out to haunt Kizzy?
Taylor’s second story is a story about a curse placed upon a baby. Based heavily in mythology — and I believe this is Middle Eastern mythos — Taylor crafts a story where the Devil can kill at will, but it is through the promise to a woman with power to travel between life on earth and Hell that he chooses no longer to kill children. That is, if this child who will be given the most beautiful voice on earth never utters a word. When a solider sees the cursed individual upon her late teen years, and she falls deeply in love, will she break the curse? Will she break it for love?
And the third story, admittedly, I did not get through. This is a story that relies a lot on world building and development and will definitely appeal to fantasy readers. This is not my genre and because I was so enamored with her first two tales, I did not want to read through the third knowing that I could not appreciate nor evaluate it well. The preceding art I did enjoy but knew from that and the short summary following the illustrations that it wouldn’t be for me.
Lips Touch was so enjoyable, so different, and so memorable. I first heard of this book from a webinar I attended wherein David Levithan raved about the book but had a heck of a time finding it anywhere. I wanted to purchase it for my library when I first learned of it but could not locate it through my vendor. A few trips to a number of big chains proved fruitless, as well, both before and after the NBA nomination announcement. So, if you’re interested in reading it and can’t find it easily, don’t be surprised. I did land a copy through Amazon.
This is a literary work. It is based deeply in language and imagery, and it alludes to many myths, legends, and other literature. This will not have wide appeal, but I think that any reader can appreciate at least one story in here. If for no other reason, pick up Lips Touch for incredible language use and for the unique use of visual story telling.
I’m pretty okay taking the risk in saying this will be the winner this year — I suspect that Claudette Colvin and Charles and Emma are going to be great reads, but this book has so much more to it than the text and for a fiction title just glows differently.