Graphic Novel Review: Kiss & Tell

Kiss and Tell coverMariNaomi’s 2011 graphic memoir Kiss and Tell: A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22 is the real-life story of one girl’s fumblings and searchings through teenage, pre-teen, and a few pre-pre-teen brushes with romance. Mari uses a simple, zine-friendly black and white art style (think Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis meets Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy) and candid warts and all narration to take the reader on an illustrated tour through the boys and girls that populate her early romantic CV.

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The term résumé here isn’t far off if you consider how Mari has formatted the book. Each of her exploits and sweethearts gets a story heading page with nothing but their name and cartoon portrait (excepting a few instances when multiple partners come into the picture and their stories are inseparable). For some, the story lasts no more than a page. Others, like Jason (the one who got away), weave through a number of stories, or get bonus side stories. One girl in particular has a portrait without a face because the author can’t remember what she looks like.

These “entries” are grouped into age ranges as to when they came into Mari’s life. There are 30 or so pages under the age of 10 and about 5 name entries to give some idea both of the all-encompassing scope of this résumé and Mari’s particular genius for socializing. Don’t worry, however; while these youthful scenes can be a little squeamish, they don’t come off as scandalizing. This fits with the overall tone of the book, which rarely looks back upon its stories with any moral judgment. While this approach might make it a bit difficult to easily digest the thrust of the book (sometimes the stories seem to just pile on — but isn’t that like life?), it is always emotionally engaged and never clinical. In the context of Mari’s generous humor and emotional honesty, her use of the term résumé in the title has obvious irony.

But, eventually, the narrative does begin to gel when Mari decides to have(or just fails to end) a long term relationship. New entries in the résumé continue to show up, however, as the couple struggles to sustain the romance.

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Kiss and Tell is a fairly new addition to a rich tradition of brutally honest graphic memoirs which includes the works of cartoonists like Joe Sacco, Chester Brown, Lynda Barry, Adrien Tomine, and Gabrielle Belle. MariNaomi continues to release book-length work, including her soon-to- be-published graphic memoir Turning Japanese, which will pick up where Kiss and Tell leaves off, and will speak of Mari’s travels in Japan and of the Japanese-American heritage she only touches upon in Kiss and Tell.  

Though Center for the Reader is technically our fiction room, it is home to a number of great graphic memoirs on similar subject matter including:

Paying for It by Chester Brown
Epileptic by David B.
One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry
When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell
Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown

This review was written by Mike McCubbins, one of our awesome library staff. Mike helps out in a number of different locations, so depending on his schedule, you may find him in Center for the Reader, The Studio, our Science and Technology Room, or another. If you’d like to ask Mike for graphic novel suggestions, we’re happy to locate him for you!

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About centerforthereader

St. Louis Central Library, Center for the Reader, is where you can find fiction, reading suggestions, author information, and much more!
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