Kiss the Girl is book three of Disney’s Meant to Be line. The series is connected thematically, with every volume placing a love story from one of their popular animated films in the modern world, although the novels themselves are stand-alone stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two tales If the Shoe Fits (Cinderella) and By the Book (Beauty and the Beast), so I was excited to pick up this take on a Hispanic-American version of The Little Mermaid.
Ariel del Mar has had an extremely successful career. But she has never had a life. Since she was ten and starred alongside her sisters in the beloved series Little Mermaids, she has been a hardworking public commodity. As teens, they’d spun their show’s success into an even bigger global sensation with the family band, Siren Seven, and there was no time for breaks or vacations as they worked their way to the top. Now, it’s the last night of their Goodbye Goodbye farewell tour, and after this performance, the exhausted group is going on an indefinite hiatus. The ladies have decided to take at least a year to do things they want rather than what their father/manager/record label owner, Teodoro del Mar, wants. Ariel isn’t sure how she is going to spend the coming months, but she is excited at all the possibilities.
Then, her father throws her a curve ball. Teodoro is okay with letting the six eldest women escape, but he has built his considerable empire on the marketability of Ariel’s glorious voice. He has no intention of letting her leave his company, Atlantica Records, at the height of her popularity to take some hippie-style sabbatical to discover herself. He enters the girls’ dressing room as they are celebrating their final performance to tell Ariel about a meeting he has arranged with a popular producer regarding her solo career. Like she always does, she acquiesces to his demands. Like she never does, she follows her capitulation with some rebellion. Later that week, Ariel sneaks out of the house with one of her older siblings for an (unauthorized by daddy) evening of frivolity at a Battle of the Bands concert. Mind you, this woman is twenty-five, not twelve, but I digress. She won’t need a disguise to stay anonymous. The red wig and mermaid makeup she wears on stage and during interviews, etc., means her real face has never been seen by the public. (And she’s just now using that to her advantage?! Alrighty, then.)
Eric Reyes is just getting ready to enter the Battle of the Bands venue when some idiot tries to run off with his guitar. Fortunately, a beautiful woman wrestles it away from the would-be thief and returns it to Eric, and it’s the start of a magical evening. He asks her if she’ll meet him for dinner and drinks after the show; she introduces herself as Melody and says she’d love to hang out. They have a wonderful night, but when dawn comes, she runs away.
Melody is Ariel’s actual first name, and spending a night using it and living an ordinary life gives her the courage to stand up to her father. When she gets home, she reminds him she is contracted as a member of the Siren Seven, not as an individual, and that she never signed any documents agreeing to a solo career. A fight ensues, and she is thrown out of the house without a penny to her name until she agrees to do as he says. Which is ironic since Ariel and her sisters’ work bought the place. However, Teodoro had managed to abscond with all the money. My understanding is that in the States, this is legally impossible, but whatever.
As luck would have it, Eric’s band is looking for someone to sell their merchandise on tour. Ariel/Melody climbs on board the bus, but not before having a heart-to-heart with Eric’s manager Odelia, the one person who actually does recognize her. Odelia doesn’t trust Ariel/Melody, but since she is a) desperate for a vendor and b) one of the many people who hate Daddy del Mar and is happy to help Ariel if that makes him unhappy, she agrees. There is one condition for Odelia’s silence on Ariel’s real identity: Ariel must not get together with Eric.
What the author does really well in this story is the characters. With the exception of the villain, she creates delightful, charming, ordinary people you would want to spend time with. Ariel and Eric both have hearts of gold, especially Ariel, who is extremely sweet and, like the Ariel in the film, filled with childlike wonder at the world around her. Eric is everything a beta hero should be: patient, tolerant, kind, warm - yada yada yada you get the gist of it. He runs the band (mostly) as a democracy, even though he is the founder/frontman and he is as good a friend as he is a boyfriend. He shares Ariel’s optimistic view of the world, even when cracking jokes about the band’s curse or talking about how his father doesn’t support his musical dreams. Their friends-to-lovers romance is as lovely as they are. The secondary characters are quirky comedic relief and, like Ariel and Eric, unbelievably kind, wonderful people. Even manager Odelia, who has a mama bear personality, is all mushy, gooey sweetness internally.
If you are looking for a light-hearted read filled with awesome folks who are a balm for the wounds inflicted by this world full of caustic humanity, you won’t do better than this.
As much as I enjoyed it, however, I struggled with the sheer saccharine nature of the story. A rock tour full of folks who don’t get sloppy drunk, cuss, smoke, or do drugs. Moreover, they don’t have egos at all. No one is concerned with their space in the limelight. Everybody gets along, and no one gets exhausted or crabby from the workload. Ariel’s sisters are utterly charming, down-to-earth, well-adjusted, wholesome pop stars as well. There’s also a lot of legal stuff surrounding music and money that I’m pretty sure would not fly in the real world. You’ve really accomplished something when you take a narrative replete with talking crabs, an evil sorceress, and a mermaid and somehow make it even more unrealistic.
Speaking of the source material, one of my biggest complaints is the switch of the villains from Odelia (Ursula) to Teodoro (King Titan). It was a step too far from the original for me. Moreover, the characters' responses to the baddie and those around him are strange. Folks are furious with Teodoro but trusting of the uncle who had stood by him from the start and the wife who was there as he (allegedly) did shady things to build his empire.
A story with more depth and grounding in reality, like the first two books have, would have been stronger and more meaningful. In fairness, though, Disney movies rake in billions because we all want/need the fantasy they offer. If you are in the mood for a novel that channels that magic kingdom vibe, Kiss the Girl is your book.
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