Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Kiss Number 8

Kiss Number 8 is set in 2004, but I feel that the story is also very relevant and contemporary. It stars a 17-year-old named Amanda who goes to a Catholic school. She gets along well with her father, and they are big minor league baseball fans who also like to watch cheesy fantasy TV shows and play video games. She feels a little more tension with her mother, though this starts to shift over time after she learns about a secret her parents are keeping that seems to implicate her father in some serious infidelity.

That is the background of the subplot, and more immediate in Amanda's life is her relationship with her school friends. Her best friend Cat is a tornado, sneaking out to clubs, drinking, carousing, and hooking up with boys. Her next door neighbors, Laura and Adam are more staid, though Adam has had a crush on her that is getting increasingly difficult to ignore or play off. As the book goes on, Amanda realizes that she does not really have any feelings for Adam but for Cat, and then things really go off the rails.
This book was a fantastic read. It features very realized, nuanced characters, both in terms of the plotting and how they are visually depicted. There are many sorts of emotions in play in here, and I feel that it handles all of the drama, humor, love, and pain in excellent fashion. I also admired that the book takes the issues at hand very seriously and does not resolve with simple, pat responses to complex relationships. It handles issues of gender and sexuality in a frank manner that shows all people's humanity, including their strengths and foibles. Finally, it highlights the awkward, painful, and weird ways that adolescent relationships form, evolve, and crumple that made me both cringe and ring a little nostalgic. That last feeling was heightened by the characters frequently interacting via instant messaging, which was the style at the time. I was genuinely moved several times in reading Kiss Number 8, which is a testament to its characters and craft.

This excellent book was a collaboration between Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. Venable is a book designer and author who is known for her Eisner nominated Pet Shop Private Eye series. Crenshaw is an illustrator who has also contributed to The Nib. I enjoyed both their work and also getting to know more about them in the substantive Q&A that followed the story. Both creators speak about their work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Kirkus Review gave it a starred review that summed the book up as "A rare blend of tender and revolutionary."  Publishers Weekly gave it another starred review that concluded, "A queer coming-of-age story that earns its powerful emotional impact." Dahlia Adler called it "a layered, funny, sharp-edged story of teen sexuality and family secrets." Alea Perez wrote, "Overall, Venable and Crenshaw do a wonderful job of using the characters to present teaching moments to readers without it feeling unnatural or patronizingly didactic." Andrew wrote that he was "happy to read an LGBTQ+ story that definitely had stakes and drama but did not have to end tragically or lack humor."

Kiss Number 8 was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and much more here.

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