A novella published by Pearlsong Press, Kiss Me, Nate! by Judy Bagshaw is a romance about teachers and thespians. Julie is a high school English teacher trying to get through to her students why Shakespeare is wonderful. Unfortunately, there’s always that one irritating teen who thinks school is a joke and teachers are clowns, so this is where we meet Brandon. While Julie is trying to talk Macbeth, Brandon calls her a “fat bitch” under his breath, sending the classroom into titters. Julie doesn’t want to lose her cool, but this teen keeps pushing her buttons, and it’s so easy to lose control of a classroom. On her drive home, Julie is in a minor fender bender. Already angry about work, Julie yells at the guy who bumped her, even when he offers to pay for the damage. He ends up calling her a “bitch,” too.
Of course, this is the meeting of our romantic protagonists. What would a romance novel be without a contentious or instant-attraction meeting? It’s got to be one or the other. Not only is the man, Nate, our leading guy, but he’s also the newly-hired gym teacher at the same school where Julie teaches. He’s highly praised for his work in inner city schools, helping to get students interested in their own lives through dedication to a team instead of causing trouble. Julie’s ashamed, but she wants help with the Brandon situation, which means she’s going to have admit she was rude, and thankfully, Nate acknowledges he was rude, uncharacteristically so, as well.
The plot of Kiss Me, Nate! is a somewhat unbelievable, but that may be only because I’ve worked in community theater, which is almost entirely run by volunteers. Without much discussion with her, Julie is declared director of the next local play, a rewriting of The Taming of the Shrew, and she, without thinking, feels pushed into it and accepts. I thought there might be some connection between the play’s title and how the relationship between Julie and Nate develops, but there isn’t: they both are full adults, she in her late thirties and he nearly thirty.
Can I pause and say that I love how Julie is older, and as grown-up people, that doesn’t matter to them? She’s also a tall fat lady, and he’s the gym teacher. It’s all wonderfully different! Nate’s role in the play is actually replacing the lead, who injured his arm, and Nate also wasn’t really onboard willingly. Nate, the gym teacher with no acting experience. When I worked at a theater, it was common for volunteer actors to spend 10+ hours per work, for six weeks, which is a big commitment, before they reach tech week and the actual run of the show. Anyway, reality aside, we’ve got stable adults in a relationship.
One thing I dislike about some books with fat characters is this notion that a fat woman is a “real” woman, a concept Nate thinks: “Although he did like that she was tall and very curvy. He liked his women to look like women.” In 2021, when the definition of “man” and “woman” is more fluid than ever, I find the notion of “women to look like women” offensive and misguided. Thin women are women. Fat women are women. Transwomen are women. Disabled women are women. Women without makeup or dresses, who wear farm boots and overalls, are women. I understand that fat women have had to defend themselves against the societal notion that thin women are feminine, and any extra weight is detracts from femininity. Bagshaw’s novella was published in 2013, but her characters feel pretty 1990s as a result of Nate’s feelings.
There’s some drama with the drama, especially when Brandon, who is involved with the play’s crew, is accused of vandalism in the theater. Readers learn more about Julie’s and Nate’s past relationships, which give Bagshaw room to talk about verbal abuse, abandonment, abortion, trust issues, and what happens as you get older and your ex’s still want to talk to you. Kiss Me, Nate! is a fluffy book, good for vacations, especially if you’re looking for a little mystery, a little non-graphic sexy romance, and helping a problem teen find his feet.