YA Fiction: GLBTQ
Love that should dare to speak its name. (Cart 2010, p156)
Genre Guide for LIBR 5013: Reading for Learning and Leisure (2013/2014) - Emma Jane and Kate S
Discrimination is not a legitimate point of view. Silencing books silences the readers who need them most. And silencing these readers can have dire, tragic consequences. Never forget who these readers are. They are just as curious and anxious about life as any other teenager. (Levithan, 2004)
What is GLBTQ?
Currently, GLBT/LGBT remains the most commonly used form of the acronym, the order of letter depending on the inclination of the group using them. It is by no means the definite end to the search for a non-derogatory term to encompass those whose sexuality or gender identity is other than hetrosexual and cis-gendered*, however, it does provide a means for referring to groups within society in a manner that is respectful.
*adj "denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex" that is, someone who is born male and identifies as male or is born female and identifies as female. (Definition n.d.)
***************"Remember, your library is not simply your library, it’s their library, it’s everyone’s library, which means there should be something in it for everyone, no exceptions." Dr Christine A Jenkins (Wexelbaum, 2011)
Advice to Librarians on including GLTBQ texts in their collections
All young adults need the opportunity to see themselves in the books that they read – they need to be able to explore and question with characters who are going through similar experiences. This has never been more true than for those young adults in our care for whom sexuality and/or gender are areas of question or difference, who are discovering that they may not fit into the neat boxes of hetrosexuality and cis-gender.
Fiona M Jardine's article on the "Selection, Inclusion, Evaluation and Defense of Transgender-Inclusive Fiction for Young Adults..." is clearly focused on literature/fiction to support trangender youth but the arguments that she makes for providing access to that literature can be used for including fiction to support all areas of the GLBTQ community. It is available through Taylor & Francis Online. (Fiona M. Jardine, (2013) Inclusive Information for Trans* Persons. Public Library Quarterly 32:3, pages 240-262.)
Malinda Lo is an author of several YA Fiction novels, including the Lambda Award nominated novel, Adaptation. Her website is well worth a visit if you are planning on introducing GLBTQ texts into your collection, starting with the blog post: My Guide to LGBT YA. It is an index of all the posts that she had done on this topic (up to Nov 2013) and includes statistics, issues in LGBT fiction, discussion of stereotypes, interviews with other authors of GLBTQ YA Fiction, booklists, and so forth.
Why should you have GLBTQ books on the shelf?
Looking for examples of censorship and book banning? You will find far too many GLBTQ books are on those lists. Cart (2011, p.161) points out that of "...the 3,376 challenges that were reported between 2000 and 2008 ... 269 were for homosexuality." Consider the picture book "And Tango Makes Three" - according to Cart (2011, p.161) it was the most challenged book in the three years prior to the publication of "Young Adult Literature." The reason for the challenges was primarily due to the perception that it promoted homosexuality. The fact that it is the true story of a pair of penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York, would appear to matter little to those who believe it is "anti-family" and "unsuited to [its intended] age group" (Cart 2011, p161.) What message does this send to young people? Not just those who identify with GLBTQ but those who form the majority of the society that the former live in?
We would invite you to consider the real-life stories that can be found on the It Gets Better website - stories from GLBTQ adults that are intended to reassure GLBTQ teens that whatever hardships they are enduring now, it gets better. By having books in the library that have GLBTQ characters/themes, you are helping that happen.
Having GLBTQ YA Fiction on your library shelves isn't just supporting young people who are looking for 'mirrors' in the books they read, it is helping to educate and build empathy in those young people for whom sexuality and gender fit with what is still viewed as the "norm." By including GLBTQ YA Fiction in your collection you are giving them a chance to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, and perhaps, to give them the insight that will help shape societies without "closets."
***************I believe that there are two main types of reading that people do: we might read books to see ourselves reflected (ie mirror books) and we might also read books to see other selves (ie window books). Children’s literature … [gives] children the opportunity to read and learn about various kinds of people … so texts can serve as both mirrors and windows. (Epstein 2012, p. 287-88).
Elements of Appeal
Adolescence is a confusing time for young people. Peer influence, body changes, navigating parental boundaries and keeping on top of responsibilities are all challenges young people face. For young adults who are questioning their own sexuality, this time in one’s life can be even more difficult. The gradual emergence of this genre has assisted young GLBTQ people in understanding that they are not alone, that they are not abnormal.
As mentioned in the preceding section, straight or GLBTQ young adults can use these books as either windows or mirrors in a private setting that could be inquisitive/curious and/or self-exploratory. This window and mirror analogy can also be applied to the young people who are living in a household with same-sex parents. Young people in this situation can read such books and this will allow them to understand that they are not alone; thus the book serves as a mirror, reflecting back to them a family, an image that they recognise as their own.
We haven't covered this last group as a separate focus in the recommendations, but if you are looking for YA Fiction that deals with the theme of kids with GLBTQ parents, Goodreads user Rainbowheart (2013) has complied a list of nearly 100 with a simple notation system indicating the parental situation, eg. two dads, transgender mom (sic,) etc.
***************"It's hard to be different... and perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated." (Konigsberg 2013, p.142)
To generalise this genre, young adult GLBTQ novels generally have the following elements:
- Usually a focus on sexuality and problems that surround it
- Gay and / or lesbian characters
- Target audience is GLBTQ young adults and young adults with GLBTQ parents
- Usually about middle-class, white, young adults
- Stereotypical GLBTQ characters
(adapted from Epstein, 2012, p.289)
Up until very recently YA books in this genre have been very much about the ‘homoplot’. That is, “the coming out story” (Jones 2013). Such books would include Swimming in the Monsoon Sea (2007) by Shyam Selvadurai and Absolutely, Positively Not (2005) by David La Rochelle. Academics and critics are calling for more progressive novels in this genre where the story goes beyond 'coming out', but rather the sexual orientation of the character(s) is celebrated and is secondary to personality (Jones 2012).
Epstein writes that it is a ‘concern that there are few books that simply accept a character’s queerness and instead tell a different story’ (2012, p.295). Critics have also noted that most gay and lesbian protagonists are white and live in the United States. Progressive GLTBQ novels have the following characteristics:
- Character is content with sexuality
- Character is not insecure about physical expression of desires
- Character shows resilience not victimisation when faced with harassment
- Novel offers many perspectives of gay and lesbian identity
(adapted from Jones 2013, p.80)
Critics in this field are also wondering why there is such a shortage of novels that have characters who are of the Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. Epstein writes, ‘… books tend to ignore other colours in the queer rainbow [resulting in] members of society in general are able to accept non-heterosexuals as long as they are mono-sexuals and as long as they are not too queer’ (2012, p.292).
GLTBQ character stereotypes has come under some scrutiny with academics such as Jones. She is adamant that authors or publishers need to better describe the reality that there is greater diversity of gay and lesbians. She urges that emerging authors need to avoid ‘cliché and formula' depictions of lesbian characters as either Butch or Femme (Jones 2013, p. 77). Likewise, Epstein argues that gay males are nearly always depicted as fashionable, funny and camp thus calling for authors and publishers to show more diversity (2012, p.295).
Cart (2011, p.160) also believes that while there have been "... many gains in the field, advances still need to be made." He is concerned that there is still a focus on the 'coming-out' plot, where "... being homosexual or transgender [is treated] as a problem or issue." (Cart 2011, p.160.) The authors of GLBTQ YA Fiction need to move beyond these 'typical' plots and, as Cart says (2011, p.160) "... feature characters whose GLBT identity is simply a given, as it is in stories about heterosexual characters."
***************"Some of us look it, Mom! I know you so-called normal people would like it better if we looked as much like all of you as possible, but some of us don't, can't, and never will." Evie, from Deliver Us from Evie (1994) M. E. Kerr, cited in Cart 2011, p.158.
A suggestion of titles to consider...
Runaways: Pride and Joy (2004) Brian K. Vaughan
The Power Within (2011) Charles Zan Christensen
Avengers: The Children's Crusade (2012) Allan Heinberg
Archie's Pal, Kevin Keller (2012) Dan Parent
Batwoman: Elegy (2010) Greg Rucka [text], J.H. Williams [illus.]
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (2010) Emily Horner
Don't Let Me Go (2012) J.H. Trumble
Dare Truth or Promise (1999) Paula Boock
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012) Emily M. Danforth
She Loves You, She Loves You Not (2011) Julie Anne Peters
Say the Word (2009) Jeanine Garsee
Hard Love (1999) Ellen Wittlinger
Normal? (2013) Stephen J. Mulrooney
The Man Next Door (2012) J. Tomas
At Swim, Two Boys (2001) Jamie O'Neill
Beloved Pilgrim (2011) Nan Hawthorne
A Boy's Own Story: A Novel (1982) Edmund White
Josef Jaeger (2010) Jere' M. Fishback
Ash (2009) Malinda Lo
The Great and Terrible Beauty (2003) Libba Bray
City of Bones (and sequels) Cassandra Clare
The Culling (2013) Steven dos Santos
Proxy (2013) Alex London
Beauty Queens (2011) Libba Bray
Adaptation (2012) Malinda Lo
Hero (2007) Perry Moore
The Diviners (2013) Libba Bray
Lake Thirteen (2013) Greg Herren
The Waking Dark (2013) Robin Wasserman
One Boy's Shadow (2013) Ross McCoubrey
All Things Lost (2009) Josh Aterovis
Renfred's Masquerade (2011) Hayden Thorne
Literary Themes & Motifs
Novels about homosexuality are often perceived as simply about sex, lacking any exploration beyond that limited idea of GLBTQ people being focused on or concerned with nothing else. In the YA novels we have looked at and read about while developing and building this genre guide, we quickly discovered this is not the case at all. These novels, like the rest of YA fiction, deal with sexuality, not just sex. They are also stories about love, coming of age, teenage angst/issues, and/or self-realisation. While for some, their content is seen as confrontational or harmful, it is most often simply because they include character(s) who are not heterosexual.
Within the theme of sexuality, there has also been a tendency for authors to describe characters in the most simplistic of stereotypes by portraying a GLBTQ characters. For example boys are effeminate in their mannerisms and conduct or worse yet, they are self-loathing and aggressive, while girls tend to be 'butch' or tomboy-ish. This two-dimensional portrayal is, thankfully, disappearing from the bulk of the YA GLBTQ fiction, providing young people with characters who are as multi-dimensional (and flawed) as their straight counterparts just like YA have been reading for years.
In many of the contemporary narratives GLTBQ characters are described as being creative. This is manifested in a character being good at art, perhaps a musician but more often than not, especially with male homosexuals, extremely fashion conscious. Whether or not this trend continues will be interesting, as it does much to reinforce stereotypes that can be harmful as well as limiting. What is encouraging is the emergence in recent years of GLBTQ-focused YA fiction that goes against this theme, books like Openly Straight (2013) Bill Konigsberg (reviewed in the recommended section) which works to challenge the labels that society applies to people in concert with words like 'gay.'
In many YA gay/lesbian novels “The Church” is often represented as a nemesis in this genre, one that is, if not a direct or immediate influence, working in the background/peripherals to punish/reject the GLBTQ character/s. Characters are isolated, confined or sent away when a church-going parent discovers that their son/daughter has homosexual tendencies. Clearly, this is a reflection of the on-going perception and experience of "The Church" as key arbiter of what is 'right' and 'acceptable', of what is 'proper' and 'normal. Having read a number of novels in this genre to date, such over-use of this motif is beginning to feel like an easy shortcut or lack of creativity on the author/publisher’s behalf.
It is our hope that this perception and experience begins to change, but it will require all people of faith and homophobic citizens to accept that which is different, instead of isolating, confining and/or excluding those whose sexuality/gender doesn't fit within a hetrosexual/cis-gender box.
***************"Straight people don't have to think, every time they talk, about whether they are coming out. We do. That might be hard, but that's also why we have to come out. If we don't, it's pretty much impossible to have a conversation about anything beyond the weather without lying. We really have no choice, do we?" (Konigsberg 2013, p.308)
Readers' Advisory Sources
Queer YA: Fiction for LGBTQ Teens - (blog) Daisy Porter-Reynold, public library administrator, Ilinois. "QueerYA is a review of fiction of interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and questioning teenagers. This includes books written for teens, or marketed to teens, or written for another audience but featuring teenage characters." Porter-Reynold's blog is very well structured and includes the option to filter your search for books via categories like genre, character (inc. Australian!), and publication date. Her reviews are honest and informative.
I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the hell do I read? (blog) Lee Wind, M.Ed., a writer, blogger & speaker. In his own words, the site is "... for teens (queer or not), for librarians, for teachers, for booksellers, for people with teens in their lives and for anyone interested in YA books with GLBTQ characters and themes. What books are already out there? What's new? Your answers are here." Down the left side of the blog is a detailed list of books, divided into a vast array of categories, including non-fiction resources. While the lists are very full and include books not found on Porter-Reynold's site (sure to be of use when looking for books to buy for your library,) his site is less about him providing reviews, than it is about providing information on what is being published in this field. A good place to start looking for books, but not necessarily to find reviews.
Rainbow Books: GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens (website) - Since 2008 this website "...presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age. Rainbow Books is a joint project of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT)and the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) of the American Library Association (ALA)." It is not an "readers' advisory" per say, but it provides an excellent catalogue of titles that you can use to recommend books to readers and to identify titles for purchase. The inaugural list (2008) is unique in that it features texts from 2005-2007, however, all subsequent lists present books published within the assigned calendar year or between July 1 and December 31 of the previous calendar year.
True Colorz: Young Adult LGBTQ Literature - "a web space dedicated exclusively to Young Adult LGBTQ literature. TC was started by a group of authors and readers who recognized the need for a site which exclusively features YA books and their authors." This sites offers a good range of resources, including a very full YA Reading List, monthly updates on new releases, and reviews of recommended reads. The reviews are well-written and honest, with the reviewers provided critical evaluations to help readers get a feel for the novel/plot/etc.
Lambda Literary - "The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers." Their site offers the ability (through the use of meta data - tags) to search for reviews of GLBTQ YA Fiction - a quick perusal would indicate that reviewed texts tend to be of a strong literary standard and quality.
California Department of Education Recommended Literature List - "a searchable database of books for children and teens which helps students, teachers, and families find books that entertain, inform, and explore new ideas and experiences. Each book has a description called an "annotation" that explains what the book is about. The annotation can help someone decide if the title is interesting and appropriate to read." When searching the database for GLBTQ related texts, use the "Customized Search" option and scroll down to the "Topic" drop-menu. Choose "gender/sexuality" as the search parameter to access the 57 titles that have been tagged with this topic. It's not as focused a result, not all of the results are GLBTQ texts, but the annotations give you enough information to determine if the book is appropriate to the area you are seeking. Publication dates range from the 1970s to the 2010s.
Cooperative Children's Book Center - "... a unique examination, study and research library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The CCBC’s noncirculating collections include current, retrospective and historical books published for children and young adults." Amongst all the resources available on this website (highly worth searching through) there is "... a bibliography ... designed to provide librarians, teachers, parents and others with suggested books for children and teens that provide information about or reflect the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) youth and gay- or lesbian-parented families."
Discussing/Selecting GLBTQ YA Fiction: Websites and other resources
A Guide to YA Novels with LGBTQ Characters (2013) Molly Wetta - we're including this article because it was where Emma started when she decided to increase the number of books with GLBTQ characters in her library's collection. Nearly every title on the infographic is now available to students in the Middle and Senior Schools. We think it is a very useful starting point as well as a helpful means of providing examples of the variety of themes/characters/issues within GLBTQ fiction. If you aren't familiar with it yet, we recommend bookmarking YASLA's "The Hub" as it is an excellent resource for those who are working with young adults.
The Book Smugglers - Thea and Ana are self-confessed book addicts. Their reviews are evidence of their love for books and their passion for a good story. We're including them in this section as the bulk of what they review is YA Fiction and they have utilised tags, including LGBT, so you are able to find books for this genre and read engaging and thoughtful reviews.
Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2014 - "Each year, the Popular Paperbacks committee creates lists of books to encourage young adults to read for pleasure. The lists of popular or topical titles are widely available in paperback and represent a broad variety of accessible themes and genres." Each year has its own specific set of topics/themes and for 2014, one of the topics is: GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual individuals, and Their Allies. The list of nominations includes both fiction and non-fiction, and publication dates range from 2006 to 2013. Each nomination has all of its bibliographic details and a single line summary - I will most definitely be using it in the new school year.
Stonewall Book Awards List - The American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table has sponsored these awards since 1971. As of 2010 this includes the Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. This link will take you to all the award winners from 2013 back to 1971 - worth a look as being able to point out that a book has received a literary award may be helpful when faced with opposition to its inclusion on your library's shelves.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION WITH GAY/LESBIAN CONTENT, 1969-2009: A CHRONOLOGICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY (2009) Dr Christine A. Jenkins - This work is intended to cover the extent of (English language) literature that falls into the category of GLBTQ YA Fiction. Be aware that a title's inclusion is not an indication of its quality as a text.
WIKIPEDIA - Although somewhat predictable, Wikipedia has an extensive discussion on this genre. For a detailed discussion on science fiction, fantasy and horror see speculative fiction and for a more general discussion see Gay Literature.
F Yeah, Queer Teen Lit - this tumblr account doesn't have a very logical or tidy layout, making it somewhat challenging to navigate. However, it is on this list because of its goal to help make it easier to find books for teens looking for GLBTQ fiction.
Epic Reads: 25 Must-Read YA Books Featuring Gay Protagonists - these recommendations were obtained by Epic Reads asking their readers to submit suggestions. There are five titles for each of the letters of the acronym: LGBTQ. Like the first entry in this section, this blogpost can provide you with a great place to start your collection.
Focus: Gay Experiences/Life/Issues
Drama (2012) by Raina Telgemeier - graphic novel. Although the protagonist is a 13 year old girl, Callie, we are also introduced to twins, Jesse and Justin, and through them (and their interactions with Callie) a small window into the concerns of young teenagers, who are still in the closet to the majority of the world or still questioning their sexuality. Reviewed at The Book Smugglers.
Boy Meets Boy (2003) by David Levithan – Recommended as another good starting novel for this genre, Boy Meets Boy is a YA love story about Paul who meets Noah. The progressive aspect of this novel is the setting. Paul lives in a small US town where homosexuality is accepted and celebrated. It is laugh-out-loud at times and a really great read. For some good reviews see The Book Smugglers and this Young Adult Literature wiki.
Openly Straight (2013) by Bill Konigsberg - Emma absolutely loved this book. The protagonist, Rafe, is very well written - Konigsberg has given him dimensions and flaws and, most importantly, made him utterly believable. Rafe is a confident, gay kid. He's out to his parents, his friends, his school, and the wider community, and everyone is accepting and no one bullies him. But Rafe is tired of being the (out) gay kid in his school, the gay kid in his neighbourhood; he is tired of feeling like the label is attached to every interaction in his life. Why does he have to be Rafe, the gay kid? Can't he just be Rafe? Maybe at his new school he can be, "...not so much going back in the closet as starting over outside it." Two excellent reviews: Good Books and Good Wine and Rather Be Reading
Focus: Lesbian Experiences/Life/Issues
Tessa Masterson will Go To Prom (2012) by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin
This is a ‘homoplot’ novel that is told from two perspectives; Tessa, the coming out lesbian and Lucas, her best friend. Until their senior-year prom, Lucas had no idea that Tessa is gay, so when he feels something romantic towards her the truth is ‘out’ so to speak. The community attempt to prevent her from attending the prom. Apparently this actually happened in a town in Mississippi a few year ago. Publishers Weekly offer a very brief review, but there are surplus of teen reviews out there. If you can get past the excessive ‘like’ and ‘kind – of’ writing try the good books good wine review.
Focus: Bi-sexual Experiences/Life/Issues
Torn (2010) by Amber Lehman - (ground-breaking title for a book about bi-sexuality. Umm, can we be sarcastic?) this is a Lambda Literary book finalist so it is worth including in this guide. A thorough review is provided by Closet Case Press , who are also the publishers, so be aware of bias. Again, Lambda Literary provide a honest review of content and literary merits of this YA novel. A word of warning: if you are looking for information about this novel don’t be tempted by the youtube clip – it’s awful.
Focus: Transgender Experiences/Life/Issues
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (2012) by Kirstin Cronn-Mills - As if the teenage years are not hard enough as a heterosexual, a transgender youth is something we would not want to imagine. Although not tragic, but somewhat horrific, the issues of a transgender teens are described in this novel. It is a transition narrative that leaves the reader hopeful for a better future for transgender teens. The Book Smugglers offer a very honest review of this novel. Barnes and Noble have collated a few decent reviews of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, but just scroll down to the bottom of the page to avoid all the advertising. Finally, Lambda Literary offers some good comments regarding the narration.
Focus: Questioning/Queer Experiences/Life/Issues
Debbie Harry Sings in French (2008) by Megan Brothers - To begin with this story is just about another troubled teen who turns to drugs to escape a family tragedy. It certainly improves because the characters are flawed but lovable and supportive towards each other. The protagonist, Johnny, is a straight transvestite and this seems to be a first for the YA genre. Goodreads provide a plethora of opinions on this novel, but I recommend you have a read for yourself. You’ll be surprised.
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Kate Sautner – a soon to be teacher-librarian who will encourage young people to keep reading to discover ‘mirrors’ and ‘windows’ which will help them become the person that they wish to be.