Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: KISSING KATE by Lauren Myracle

Summary (from Amazon): The kisser is best-friend-since-seventh-grade Lissa. The kiss is no peck on the cheek, and therein lies the rub. Since the fateful event, Kate has been cold to her friend. In this first-person narrative, Lissa, hurt and confused, details her present state of inner turmoil, with frequent flashbacks to the girls' blissful (pre-kiss) days. To complicate matters, Lissa and her younger sister are being raised by an uncle (their parents died in a plane crash), and lack the emotional rudder a maternal figure might have provided. At first Lissa misses Kate dearly, but gradually, through personal insights derived from some new and unexpected friendships (and forays into new-age dream therapy), she finds the strength to confront both Kate and her own sexual identity. 

What I liked: KISSING KATE is a story about questioning sexuality, and I almost like that better than reading a story about someone who is already certain of her sexuality and fighting for it (regardless of what her sexuality is). I think the scariest thing about being in high school is not knowing who you are, in an environment that really puts pressure on you to define yourself. When your self-discovery involves realizing things (like being gay) that society doesn’t always accept—and that could get you blacklisted, bullied, or made fun of at school, as well as potentially shunned by your parents—sometimes it’s easier to pretend like you’re not going to change, you’re not going to look into that part of you, you’re just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Lissa doesn’t do any of that, and that’s what makes her such a valuable main character. She’s scared, she’s unsure, but she’s not willing to pretend she didn’t feel something when Kate kissed her, or to pretend that she doesn’t want to do it again. She often has nobody to talk to about it, and Kate is less than helpful at the best of times (because she’s scared, too), but Lissa keeps learning things about herself, and allows the possibility that she’s gay, or bi, or just not quite straight.

What I wished the book would have explored more: There were several conversations between Kate and Lissa that skirted around why Kate was so hesitant to explore the attraction between them further. I loved these conversations, because it was so obvious that both girls were having a hard time just coming out and saying how they felt, but there was no question that they both knew what they were saying, and that they both knew what was going unspoken.

However, a couple of times Kate mentions the possibility of being made fun of at school. But that’s the only time it ever comes up. A big part of what makes it hard for a lot of kids to come out in high school, or to even explore that they might be something other than heterosexual, is the threat of bullying. There are a couple really authentic self-loathing moments from both girls (Kate especially) because at times neither of them wants to even admit to the possibility of being gay. But that self-loathing isn’t inherent—it’s taught, and a big place we learn that is seeing or being subject to cruelty in school, as well as negative media images.

Favorite moment: “Just because you’re into Kate…well, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gay. Although it’s okay if you are. But if that’s what’s worrying you…God. It shouldn’t be so hard to talk about this stuff. All I’m saying is maybe you’re gay or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re bi. Or maybe it’s totally a Kate thing. Maybe you’d want to be with her whether she was a girl or a boy.”
(Quote from page 184 of ISBN 0-525-46917-6)



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