Title: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw
Two-sentence summary: Mads never understood why people loved kissing so much. Until her eight kiss, which calls into question all she understood in her conservative upbringing.
Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: In case you couldn’t guess from that blurb, Mads is a cisgender lesbian who discovers and grapples with her identity as a teenager. Between hormones and internalized shame from her family and Catholic high school, Mads faces a lot of pressure to bury her sexuality. Mads is intuitive and skilled at self-introspective, and what she uncovers about herself and her family leads to powerful conversations about identity.
Homophobia in general, both internalized and external, is a major theme in Kiss Number 8. Although the title sounds more like a romantic comedy, this is an introspective story that doesn’t always offer easy choices for our protagonist Mads.
What I liked: This book reminded me a bit of a queer, contemporary take on The Scarlet Letter. Although I didn’t go to Catholic school like Mads, I did attend high school in a conservative community who mostly belonged to the same religious background. Not many students came out as openly LGBT, and those who did often faced social consequences.
Kiss Number 8 accurately portrays what it’s like to be outed as gay when you’re young and still figuring yourself out in a place where it’s not safe to do so. As soon as word gets out that she kissed another girl, gossip spreads through her high school and kicks her out of a social group she’d belonged to for her whole life. It can be devastating as a religious queer person to feel alienated from a community that defines how you understand the world and yourself, and that fear and uncertainty is portrayed excellently here.
Recommended: I’ve sung my praises towards queer graphic novels many times on this blog, and this book is an excellent example of the genre. If you’re interested in a story with family secrets, religious crises, and high school drama, Kiss Number 8 is worth checking out.
Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.