Even today, nearly a decade after first reading it, the short story "Secret" is just as heartbreaking and visceral to read as it was the first time. The first short of this volume is about Mika, who is brutally raped while walking home from a date. The experience is made worse that no one around her seems to understand her pain-- her boyfriend and friends blame her for not fighting back, she can't bring herself to tell the police out of shame, and perpetual guilt and PTSD over the event keeps her from ever being comfortable in her own skin. On top of it all, she suffers nasty flashbacks from things like being touched and cigarette smoke, greatly impacting her day-to-day life.
Unlike previous volumes, which tend to rely on contrivances or melodrama for convenience, everything that happens to Mika feels very real, as much as most people would wish that it wasn't the case. Of the 110 page story, only a couple pages are devoted to the act itself, and it's barely depicted at all outside of one flashback-- the focus isn't on the act of rape, which many similar stories make the mistake of concentrating on, but the victim behind the crime. Mika's relationship with her boyfriend composes most of the story, and it showcases how difficult the rebuilding process can be. Even so, the story never once feels preachy about the point it's trying to make, which works immensely in the story's favor.
The second story, "Wish" also marks a first in the series: it's one of the few times that the second story of the volume is just as good as the first. Considering that Mika's story was one of the best in the whole series, that's no small feat.
"Wish" tells the story of a teenage girl who discovers that her best friend, Nana, is diagnosed with AIDS due to a bad blood infusion she had as child. Both her and her friends have to adjust to these new changes in life, emphasized by the alienation that Nana feels as a result of her diagnosis. A reoccurring theme is knowing that certain contact with Nana is perfectly safe, but everyone is still being afraid of it anyway. Unlike previous "friend of the victim" stories, the ulterior motives of purposefully being nice or sympathetic is frequently called into question. Even the main character has to admit there's a sort of ego trip that comes out of being perceived as a savior of sorts, even when that's the exact opposite thing her friend wants from her. It's a powerful narrative that many "Very Special Episodes" about AIDS usually fail to capture.
That being said, the story was clearly written in that small blip of time after the 80s where people figured out that homosexuals weren't the only group affected by HIV/AIDS but before anything more than that was common knowledge, especially among teenagers. The fear that Nana causes might also seem over the top to younger readers, as institutions today are more equipped to deal with HIV/AIDS carriers, and it's is no longer the death sentence that it was over a decade ago. Even so, the questions it raises about the strength of friendship in hard times is timeless and encapsulates legitimate struggles that anyone with a serious illness can understand.
Volume five is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best that CONFIDENTIAL CONFESSIONS has to offer. Highly recommended to both fans of the series and anyone that wants to read one of the rawest depictions of dark issues put to light.