Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle

I remember one day when I was about 11 years old. I was sitting on the floor of my friends living room and she and I were just bashing the dickens out of gay people and her mother, who is still one of the wisest women I know, said, "Would God really want us to harm any of his children or treat them the way that you've been talking?" Of course, we answered very meekly, "No." And, thus began my struggle, balancing the blindly conservative Christian in me with what I knew must be true.

During this same time period and for the next fifteen years I re-educated myself using the media and literature to do it. Rock Hudson came 'out of the closet' when he found out he had AIDS (people my mom's age and older were just mind-blown) and when he died the world mourned, Ryan White (who was just a few years older than me) got AIDS from a blood transfusion, Magic Johnson got HIV and still played basketball, and Matthew Shepard, who was my age, got beaten to death in Wyoming for being gay. I watched and read And, The Band Played On and all those series on HBO like If These Walls Could Talk and Queer As Folk. I read all sorts of young adult fiction about boys who were gay (there really didn't seem to be a lot about girls) like Night Kites, one I especially remember is The Drowning of Stephan Jones. I remember so identifying with the girl in that book because she too had a hard time saying what she knew to be true and what she believed as defending Stephen and his boyfriend meant going against how she was raised. I suppose I was looking for answers and trying to figure out what it all meant...did I mention that's hard to do in a small town in the Midwest?

In my high school there was only one boy who actually told everyone he was gay and he was also my neighbor. I didn't care that he was gay, I just liked that he taught us how to dance (he went to real dance classes in the city) and dressed cool because he was from fashion forward California. I felt that he and I weren't so different; as a person of color and a gay person we were treated badly by some because of something that we could not and did not want to control.

All this background knowledge really did come in handy when I started teaching and it seemed that my quiet open-mindedness attracted and still attracts those students who know that I will listen without judgment. This has made me quite the connoisseur of controversial young adult novels. (Isn't it strange that books that actually help students deal with loss or pain or being themselves are always controversial?)

Anyway, I say all of this so you understand the foundation of being I had when reading Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle.

This seriously is one of the best books that I have ever read about teen confusion concerning sexual orientation. One night at a party Kate kisses, Lissa, her best friend and although Kate wants to pretend it never happened Lissa can't. This, of course, means that they are no longer best friends and as Lissa branches out she wonders if Kate was ever truly her friend at all. Through other friendships and several confrontations with Kate, Lissa learns to be her powerful self. This is a great coming-of-age novel and anyone who has had a hard time reconciling with the core of who they are will identify with Lissa as she totally turns her world upside in the search for her self.

I like that in the end Lissa has friends she can trust and she's confronted Kate, but she is still thinking about and learning about who she is. I could see how this book might help several teenagers realize that they are not alone and that their struggles don't have to be completed in silence.

4 Stars   
This book is a little disjointed in parts and the ending kind of drags on. In some ways there's so much going on in such a small book. 

Teacher Advisories 
Sex 2/5
The kiss between Kate and Lissa happens before the book begins and there's one encounter with Lissa and Kate again, it's sexy, but not over the top, and there isn't another kiss.
Language 1/5
There may have been a word or two. Kate calls Lissa a dyke.
Substance Abuses 1/5
Kate and Lissa kiss at a party while Kate is intoxicated, there's another party with alcohol.
Violence 1/5
There are some intense arguments used with harsh language.

Touchy Subjects
Lissa lives with her uncle and little brother. They don't really know a lot about her.
What does it mean to come out to others? What does it mean to be gay? Lissa has a wonderful conversation with a lesbian couple about the hardships and truths about being gay.
Lissa is learning to be herself. Her friend at work, Ariel, is a spunky go-getter who doesn't fit in. Ariel's friend has a handicap, but he is a positive and strong male character. Kate doesn't even know how to be herself and doesn't mind lying to herself or others.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

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