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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Kiss Number 8, written by Colleen Af Venable and illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 14 and up

"Cat's at the Zipper. Can you
give me a lift.

I don't know ... 
My parents will freak if I 
drive back by myself. 

Then stay out with us.

No way. That place is 
super sketchy. How are 
you even going to get in?"

Amanda lives a full life. She loves her Catholic high school and the friends she has there. She and her father have a strong relationship, sharing a love of minor league baseball, terrible television, and time together. She has a best friend, Cat, who does her best to get Amanda out of her family bubble by taking her to hear a wide assortment of new bands any chance she gets.

When a letter and a large cheque arrive for her, Mads' contented life begins to change. She hears her father talking to Dina and assumes that he is seeing someone new ... someone who is a threat to her parents' marriage. As well, Mads is beginning to consider her true feelings for Cat, a dynamic force in her life who is not necessarily the best influence or example of a real friend. There is a lot going on here, and many references are made to the 2004 setting. The secret that her father has been keeping from her is as uncomfortable for many today as it would have been back then. Misunderstanding and and a lack of acceptance for what happened in the past, and a refusal to accept the very real circumstances of her transgender grandmother's transition late in life led to irreparable tension for her father, and now for Amanda as she struggles to find common ground with her beloved dad. The support of her friends helps her to deal with the art of kissing, the adolescent angst of just being, and her changing family dynamics. Learning the truth sets her on a path to understanding more about those she loves, and about herself.

This picture of a young teen and her family, her relationships with peers, and her growing awareness of her own sexuality is told with candor and class. It has everything a teen reader is looking for in a graphic novel that captures the messy dynamics of family, friendship and personal growth. The remarkable artwork perfectly matches the book's content in black and white, expressive, fully developed images. It is a coming-of-age story that packs an emotional punch. Readers will want to read it again.

Moving, human and hopeful, this is a perfect summer read!

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