Ever since Kate and Lissa were paired as gym partners in seventh grade, they've been inseparable. They dress alike, they do everything together, and they can tell each other everything.
But that was before the kiss. At a classmate's party, drunken Kate kissed sober Lissa, and now everything has changed between them.
Kate wants to pretend that nothing happened.
Lissa doesn't think she can.
I've read several 'coming out' novels, the majority of which have followed the story of the main character's first ever same-sex relationship. While I enjoy romance as much as the next reader, I think that Kissing Kate, about sixteen-year-old Lissa's unrelationship with her best friend, more closely reflects the early experiences of many teenage girls who find themselves questioning their sexuality. The narrative picks up a few weeks after Lissa's best friend Kate kisses her at a party, and the two girls have been avoiding each other ever since. For Lissa, who is neither popular nor especially confident, it's a lonely time. She doesn't have other friends to hang out with, her parents are both dead, and she's not about to confide in her uncle Jerry (scared of the word 'bra') or kid sister Beth (desperate to fit in). It's a novel about the early stages of coming out, which for Lissa means being honest with herself - no matter what Kate's feelings are.
Aside from Lissa's mixed up feelings about her sexuality, this is also a story about friendship. When Lissa finds herself working with kooky schoolmate Ariel at her Saturday night job, she's not interested in making friends. Especially not with someone who seems to embrace being different in a way that Lissa has never been able to. But Ariel isn't the kind of person to be put off easily, and the two form an unlikely bond over a mutual interest in lucid dreaming. And as Lissa struggles with her feelings for Kate, she learns the difference between a good friendship and a bad one.
Ultimately Kissing Kate is a novel that doesn't over-simplify sexuality. We're left knowing that although Lissa has been true to her feelings for Kate and become more self-aware and confident, she still has far to go. However, there's a sense that she's set out on the right path, and that she's learned to form empowering friendships instead of confidence-sapping ones. Actually, I think that's a pretty fantastic example for teenagers in itself: if your friends judge you, don't change - get new friends. In contrast, Kate's journey is a less optimistic one, as she pushes away a genuine friend in the interest of protecting her self-image. This book doesn't sugarcoat reality, and I think that readers will trust its message all the more for that reason. It's hopeful and honest, and it reminds us that it's better to find self-acceptance than strive to conform to other people's limited expectations.