LitStaff Recs: This Boy’s Life & Kiss & Tell

by Lauren Alwan

 Kiss & Tell by MariNaomi

I met MariNaomi at last year’s NerdCom: Stories, and found her to be gracious, thoughtful, talented and witty. At her book signing, I felt she truly was listening to me, seeing me, acknowledging me for those few moments.

Yet I had never read one of her books.

This was a case of not knowing an author until you stumble across them – in this case, on a panel at a literary conference, and reading from one of her works during a large auditorium session. I was so taken with her that when I saw she was attending one of the signing sessions, I impulsively bought her most recent book from one of the convention vendors and joined the line. But MariNaomi did more than just sign the book – she drew a picture in it for me, right then and there. Just for me.

Now I’m planning on reading every one of her books. You betcha. Not only because it’s the least I can do for someone who is gracious, thoughtful, talented and witty, and who drew a picture in her book just for me, but because her books are … well, unlike anything I’ve ever read. (In a good way.)

Take Kiss & Tell, her 2011 memoir-ish graphic novel, subtitled “Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22”. (I only add the -ish to memoir because it pretty much sticks to one aspect of her life, which is, as one may have gleaned, romance.) It’s both simple and amazingly complex at the same time. Not complex due to an inventive plot or deeply woven characters or intricate layers of internal meaning, but complex because it is so honest, and honesty is hard, and complicated.

Starting with her parents’ fairy tale courtship and marriage, and her own naive sexual exploitation at a young age by a babysitter, the book offers an unfettered, nonjudgmental view of a young girl who became sexually promiscuous in her early teens. The motivations are not clear (although teenaged rebellion is always a good bet, bolstered by underage drinking, drug use, and an instance of running away from home), nor are they all that important. The pages of this book simply relate encounters and experiences that occurred at this point or that point in MariNaomi’s life. Not all of them are sexual. Few of them are actually romantic.

So why read about this? Because it’s a compelling way to follow a young woman’s journey through her life. While there may be a common thread (romance, sexuality), the weave is so much more intricate: relationships, emotions, motivations, gratifications, self image, self worth, self confidence, growth.  And since the “entries” on the “résumé” are told in such a simple, straightforward manner, the impact is incredibly strong. The same go for the illustrations, which are also simple, straightforward – an dynamic.

I am so glad I got to know MariNaomi and her works. (Turns out she’s a pretty fantastic person besides drawing red pandas in her books for someone, even though she’s not a huge fan of red pandas…) Check out Kiss & Tell, and I’m sure you’ll become a fan, too.

—Sharon Browning

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