‘Kiss Number 8’ perfectly shows the conflict between religion and sexual orientation

First Second Books

2004 was a great year to be a kid.

The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, ending their 86-year long drought, taking the series with a dominating 4-0 performance.

Destiny’s Child released their fifth and final album, “Destiny Fulfilled,” acting as an end to the trio’s work, allowing Beyoncé to begin the monstrous process of making a name for herself as a solo artist.

Also, May 17 was a big day for Massachusetts, for the state legalized same-sex marriage, thanks to a decision made by the state’s Supreme Court.

All these references are not used in vain, though – “Kiss Number 8,” this year’s featured Pride Month read, is a new young adult graphic novel set in the nostalgic year of 2004.

Written by Colleen AF Venable, with art by Ellen T. Crenshaw, “Kiss Number 8” provides the reader with unique characters, but the story focuses primarily on Amanda Orham and her trials and tribulations in surviving her time at Saint Francis Catholic High School.

That, and documenting the eight kisses during her youth. That’s important, of course.

Amanda is not the only one having a hard time, though – she is joined by her friends, Cat, Laura, and Adam in this experience, and each character has their own backstory and motives to get through life.

Cat is your typical party girl: she smokes, she drinks, she has a hell of a sailor’s mouth, and she’s not afraid to be blunt … or overtly sexual. She reminded me of a close friend I had in high school, honestly.

Laura and Adam, on the other hand, are wildly different from Cat.

The siblings live their lives by the book – the “Good Book,” that is – they both avoid doing any activity that could put their relationship with the Catholic faith in jeopardy.

Amanda is the nerdy protagonist in the middle of that scale.

Oh, right, I should elaborate more on the religious angle this story provides.

Every Sunday, the characters go to Mass and they say their prayers every night, but not all the characters are entirely into it, aside from Laura and Adam. Cat just makes it into a joke, as per her character.

The other days of the week? Not so bright.

Much of this story’s conflict comes down to the Orham family’s many plotlines. Amanda’s father, James, is accused of having an affair with a woman named Dina, and her mother is often not in the mood to interact with Amanda after a long day at work.

Couple those with the additional romance-driven plotline of finding out about Amanda’s own sexual orientation and you have a recipe for ridiculous stress.

Told in a black-and-white art style, reminiscent of comic strips, “Kiss Number 8” is a story that truly encapsulates the phrase, “High school is hell.”

As the story progresses, Amanda’s relationship with the Catholic faith gets more distorted. Her friendships are tested and pushed to their absolute limits, and her own sexual identity is put into question.

That, and the adults in Amanda’s life all have something to hide, especially James – with his secret being worth a $30,000 check. That’s about as much as I’m willing to divulge to you, reader.

The writing is snappy and full of emotion, and it really gets a reader into the mindset that Venable and Crenshaw want you to be in. They want you to experience high school again and, my goodness, it works beautifully. On top of that, they include a Q&A session at the end of the book – that’s something you rarely see in a graphic novel, and I greatly appreciate that.

“Kiss Number 8” was a story two years in the making and I cannot recommend it enough. If you want something cute, but also exciting, mysterious, and intense, pick this up at a local bookstore as soon as you can.

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