On the opening pages of Kiss Number 8, we are introduced to our protagonist, Amanda, by way of all the kisses she has had in her life. The first seven are male and then kiss eight happens. It is the night of this kiss that changes everything for Amanda. The story quickly backtracks to show how Amanda came to find herself in a car kissing the last person she expected to kiss.
Amanda is a bit of a tomboy. She considers her dad her best friend. They spend every Sunday watching their minor league baseball team and every night watching their favorite TV show or playing video games. Her other best friends are Cat, a beautiful, outgoing classmate who loves going to parties, and good girl Laura, who is the exact opposite of Cat. Life is good for Amanda until one Sunday when her dad gets a phone call in the middle of the baseball game. He is secretive about who is on the other end and blows off Amanda’s questions. This sets her off on a mission to figure out what is going on. At first, Amanda assumes the worst: her dad is cheating on her mom. But as the clues come together and with the help of Laura, Amanda puts the pieces together. I don’t want to spoil the reveal. Although it is not some big twist, I think the story is more fulfilling if you figure it out along with Amanda.
The secret rocks Amanda in several ways, but mostly it becomes a catalyst for her. She begins questioning many parts of her life, mostly her sexuality. The reactions to the secret also show the true selves of many people in her life, including her grandmother, friends, and father. The story is set in 2004, so LGBTQIA+ awareness and tolerance was not as progressive. It’s interesting to see how in such a short time perceptions have changed (although the same reactions obviously happen currently).
Even though Amanda makes many choices that make you want to shake her, you still want to see her happy. You feel for her as she is figuring things out. It’s real and relatable. Every teen has had moments of questioning, whether it is their sexuality or just their sense of self. Amanda never labels herself and I think that is an excellent choice by Venable. It shows that sexuality can be something you don’t completely figure out and that is fine. You can still be happy and fulfilled without labeling yourself.
While Amanda’s story does end on a happy note, it still shows how sometimes your friends are not going to be your friends for life. So many teen novels will include arguments between friends, but normally they all make up in the end. Kiss Number 8 shows Amanda having serious issues with her friends and not all of them become her friend again. I thought this was a unique and normal aspect of friendship to depict—there are some people who are just not meant to be your friends and it is okay to walk away from that.
Most teen novels or graphic novels have a storyline about finding your place and there’s a reason for that. It’s a hallmark of adolescence. Kiss Number 8 is no different. Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw make a great team. Crenshaw’s black and white drawings are expressive and detailed and add so much to Venable’s story.
Kiss Number 8 is a beautiful story about finding your identity, sexuality, and real friends. This would be a great addition to any library and would be especially useful for LGBTQIA+ displays, programs, and awareness.
Kiss Number 8
By Colleen AF Venable
Art by Ellen T Crenshaw
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
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Character Traits: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans