Three Kisses, One Midnight
The best description I can think of for Three Kisses, One Midnight is a fairytale. Or a story that’s trying really hard to be a fairytale, anyway.
This Young Adult book is actually three loosely intertwined short stories. At least, they should be short in that the entire tale takes place over the course of about twenty-four-hours, but I’ll discuss this momentarily. We follow the trials and tribulations of three best friends, Apollonia (Onny) Diamante, Asher Lee and Aria (True) Tandon, as they use a magical love potion handed down to Onny by her mystical, old-world grandmother, ostensibly leading to the titular three kisses by midnight and true love for all.
Onny calls herself “witchy adjacent”, a fancy term for what I would call fanciful and a bit flaky. She believes she has inherited the connection to the supernatural that her lola lived by, and she’s determined to make a match for herself and her two best friends via a love potion she’s spent a good deal of time brewing up. Things feel especially promising because her mystical town’s four-hundred-year anniversary coincides with her parents’ annual Halloween bash, giving her the perfect setting for all things magical to happen. Onny even has a target for her love potion, the attractive and very compatible Sagittarius Alexander Abernathy, aka Alexander the Great Looking. Unfortunately, Onny’s nemesis Byron Frost throws a wrench in her plans when he accidentally consumes the potion meant for Alexander. Onny determines that Byron must help her concoct another draught of the stuff before midnight, and shenanigans ensue as they embark on the project.
Meanwhile, Ash Lee is pining over girl-next-door Cassidy Rivera. She’s everything perfect – Ash spends much of his time counting the ways – yet, he feels, is out of his league due to her triumph-over-tragedy backstory and overall… perfection. When a freak basketball accident results in the destruction of Ash’s backyard fence, he and Cassidy finally get to spend some quality time together rebuilding it. Over the course of an afternoon getting to know each other, Ash begins to have a small hope that maybe Cassidy isn’t completely out of reach. But his hopes are crushed when he overhears her fellow cross-country teammate Logan cajole her into asking him to the upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance. Of course Cassidy would prefer a jock like Logan over an art geek like Ash.
True Tandon isn’t worried about finding love. She’s worried about getting over her old love. Specifically, her ex-boyfriend, Bradley, who will most definitely be at the Halloween party with his handsome face and all of the heartache he inspires. And it’s not only that True has had her heart broken, but she is not exactly a believer in the positive – magical or otherwise. She tends to expect the worst, and even Onny’s fantastical optimism isn’t enough to convince True that she’ll ever find love again. So when a strange guy from another school appears in front of her, too cute to be true, it’s no wonder True is skeptical that he might be a love potion-worthy target.
The three stories take place over Halloween day and during Onny’s family’s Halloween party, with enough flashbacks thrown in to fill out the backstory. Secondary characters like the town’s whacky, costume-loving Mayor Grimjoy and his straightlaced biology teacher husband, Mr. Brightside, wander in and out of each story, providing a connection between them. Too, the best friends text each other plenty of snark and support.
The love stories are sweet if somewhat predictable, and authors Chokshi, Menon and Skye, throw in enough details to create an enchanting backdrop for all. This is where I got that fairytale quality that I mentioned in my opening sentence. Things such as a town with a spooky “Lady of Moon Ridge” founders’ fable and an abandoned house known as the Skeleton Shack definitely add atmosphere. Throw in a mansion with a folly house and described by one character as what would happen “…if the Clue mansion and Cinderella’s castle had a baby”, and pretty much anything is possible.
My main issue overall, is the length of each segment of the book. This is what I would describe as a ‘small story’, taking place in a limited number of locations over a very short amount of time. However, each segment covers many, many pages with copious conversations and descriptions, such that I grew somewhat bored and just wanted things to move forward. Ash’s segment includes such over-the-top descriptions that I found myself rolling my eyes more than once. And I did find Onny’s obsession with magic to be a bit much after a while.
While running things by a sensitivity reader or two (or three) seems to be best-practice for writers these days in order to avoid offending anyone and everyone, it also seems prudent to keep this effort below the radar. Several times while reading Three Kisses, One Midnight the effort to be inoffensive smacked me in the face. For example, Onny is very clearly from a very, very wealthy family. However, we are reminded more than once that although she is rich, she’s not entitled.
It was a magical childhood, and one that Onny knew wouldn’t have been possible without the privileges afforded to her by her parents’ wealth. Despite their wealth—and Corazon’s definitively unsubtle taste—her parents had always emphasized humility, charity, and the reminder that no wealth compared to the love of one’s family and friends.
Instead of telling me that Onny is grounded, show me. In fact, I never got the impression she was entitled, so paragraphs like the above were wholly unnecessary.
And at one point, Ash grabs Cassidy’s arm in order to keep her from going into his art studio. His self-flagellation is a bit extreme.
After a little while, though, she swiveled to face the back of the yard. “What’s in that shed?”
“It’s my studio.”
“Cool. Can I see?” She rose from the grass.
“No!” Ash lunged and grabbed her wrist.
Cassidy froze and stared wide-eyed where his hand held her arm.
Ash released her as quickly as he’d seized her. He fell backward onto the boards beneath him, holding both arms up in the air in surrender. “Sorry! I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have grabbed you. It’s just that my studio . . . it’s a super-personal space.”
If True were here, she would smack Ash upside the head…It had only been a light touch, but still. He was a complete idiot.
Unless Cassidy is very, very sensitive, wouldn’t a simple ‘I’m sorry’ and explanation be enough? Maybe it’s generational, but giving the characters the benefit of the doubt is much more pleasant than lampshading their every possible transgression.
We are reminded several times that the love potion will not work on someone unless the predisposition for love is already there, and that no one will be “dosed” without approval. This, I’m sure, to avoid any hint of the heinous crime of ‘roofie-ing’ someone’s drink. I wholly approve this clarification in theory but wish its execution hadn’t been so heavy-handed.
In the end, I found Three Kisses, One Midnight to be a cute but forgettable Halloween tale. Kind of like the booty kids get from Trick-Or-Treating, it’s a bit too sweet and a bit too much, but overall, harmless once a year.