Appelt, Kathi. Kissing Tennessee: and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance. Clarion, 2000. ISBN 978-0152051273 118 pp. $7.99
The first page issues the invite, but it is Appelt’s evocative poem “Invitation” that sets the stage and brings the reader right back to his or her first dance. Through the characters, we relive the whole melodrama: the anticipation of kisses-not-given, the ecstasy of being asked to dance (and the anguish of asking), the magic that makes you see your best friend in a whole new light, crushes of one kind or another, and the disagreements with parents over what to wear from shoes to ribbons and lipstick.
Appelt intersperses the heavier side of junior high life: one boy is feeling the heartache of missing one who should be there, but isn’t, and one girl comes from an abusive home. In one story eerily similar to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a young woman is hiding out in the ladies room, scratching a list on the stall as she copes with the horror of having just been raped by a football star she snuck out with. A closing poem, “Midnight” reveals the lingering essence of magic that the night custodian clears away until next year.
This is a beautifully written book that includes different and distinct voices and universal experiences juxtaposed with unique, but no less real, situations. Highly recommended.