“From widely acclaimed comedian and author, Shappi Khorsandi, comes a modern fable about the rise and fall of a beautiful, but vulnerable, young woman in a world obsessed with fame and fortune.”


Kissing Emma by Shappi Khorsandi is a Young Adult novel published by Orion Children’s Books that is part of the BELLATRIX collection. This collection of books which also includes Kit de Waal’s Becoming Dinah and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls was launched by Hachette Children’s Group. “In literature and in life, women of the past and present have a million stories that are untold, mis-told or unheard,” Hachette Children’s Group explained. In response, they proudly launched BELLATRIX “a new collection of gripping, powerful and diverse young adult novels by leading female voices. From gothic to thriller to romance to funny, each book is entirely unique, but linked by a passion for telling her whole story.”

Shappi Khorsandi’s novel, Kissing Emma is the third novel in the BELLATRIX series and it inspired by the real and untold story of Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s lover and mistress. Unlike the historical Emma, Khorsandi’s Emma lives in the modern-day and gets her happy ending by sticking her middle fingers up to all the men who wish to use her, and instead of going her own way in life.

The novel touches briefly on the real-life Emma Hamilton with stories told by one of the characters, and a further history is outlined by Shappi Khorsandi in the Author’s Notes at the very end of the book for those readers who are interested in the person who inspired the main character of Kissing Emma.

The fictional Emma Hamilton is a teenage girl growing up in a contemporary world that is still obsessed with looks, money, and status (especially when it comes to the female portion of the population.) Emma and her mother and down on their luck, struggling for money and finding themselves sleeping in her Nan’s living room after events force them to leave their own flat.

Emma struggles with her family, money issues, and school where girls are bitchy to her and where the boys only seem to be interested in her looks. She is already contemplating quitting school altogether to start earning money sooner – to finally escape her cramped living conditions – when she meets two men who convince her they can give her a modelling career.

Their motives, however, are far from innocent and she finds herself dragged into a dark world where she no longer feels in control. Then, she meets Con, a rich, handsome, romantic man. Has her luck finally changed or will Emma forge her own way in life?

Shappi Khorsandi’s novel is a brilliant read for teenagers and adults alike, with a compelling and gripping storyline, a cast of characters with deep and intriguing personalities (not all good and not all bad). This modern fable charts the rise and fall of a young, beautiful woman – much like the real Emma Hamilton – as she learns to live on her wits, looks, and talents of acting.

Kissing Emma explores a variety of important themes and issues including; domestic violence, the cycle of poverty and self-fulfilling prophecy, the darker side of being an Instagram Influencer, racism, class prejudice, and relationships. It is reminiscent of Jacqueline Wilson’s YA fiction in the way it explores these important topics that may impact the lives of many teenagers reading it.

Kissing Emma by Shappi Khorsandi is brilliantly written – much like her début novel Nina Is Not OK – and the story not only makes for a great reader but will likely inspire many readers to research the life of the real Emma Hamilton, and perhaps many other women like her who have been down-trodden or forgotten by history.


Reviewed by:

Catherine Muxworthy, Booksbirdblog

Added 17th October 2021

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Catherine Muxworthy