My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Bookworm Wednesday: My LGBT YA Bookshelf

Update: Please note that the agents discussed in the article by Brown and Smith have offered a rebuttal.  I have included the link to a Publishers Weekly post which contains both the rebuttal and a counter-rebuttal from the authors.  Please keep in mind that while there may be some question as to the validity of the authors specific claims, the overall discrimination issue remains entirely real.

On Monday a blog posted by Publishers Weekly began making the rounds on social media sites, especially Twitter.  The article, written by YA authors Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith and titled “Say Yes to Gay YA,” told a sobering story about how these two well-known authors attempted to find an agent for a post-apocalyptic YA novel they wrote together.  However, none of the agents they contacted were interested, though several said they would be if changes were made, and one agent stated point-blank that he would be interested only if the authors removed a gay pov character, or made him straight.

It is implied that this is a marketing concern rather than a personal problem with homosexuality (though one can never be sure).  The generally consensus seems to be that YA scifi/fantasy novels (or another kind of YA novel, no doubt) with gay characters (or other minorities ethnic, religious, disabled, etc) simply cannot sell books.  The authors refused to make their gay character straight or remove him, and have yet to find an agent for their novel.  But this is not the end of the story.

The authors are asking for everyone to get involved in changing this trend that implies that LGBT and minority characters in YA, and by extension LGBT and minority young adults, are at best not interesting enough to sell books, and at worst a social evil that is (and should be) subject to erasure.  Readers, writers, editors, and agents all need to bring this problem to the public’s attention.  And they need to show other agents, editors, and publishers that having a gay or minority character in a YA novel (scifi/fantasy or otherwise) will not prevent people from buying/reading it.  That, in fact, many readers specifically want more YA fiction featuring LGBT and other minority characters.  We went YA fiction that truthfully and fairly represents the lives of all young adults.  Not just white, heterosexual, middle-class, Christian Americans.

In one small effort to do my part, I am taking a moment here to mention a few of the YA novels I have read personally that featured gay or lesbian main characters.  I tend to read more adult scifi/fantasy featuring LGBT characters, so I don’t have a lot of YA titles to share.  Of course, part of the reason for that is that there simply isn’t much choice in YA fiction.  I’ve also noticed that while gay YA lit remains an overall minority, within that grouping it is far more common to find YA titles with male gay characters than it is to find novels about bi or lesbian young adult girls.  However, the few titles that I own all have female main characters, with one exception, simply because I’m a girl, so that’s what I tend to gravitate toward.  Also, only one of these is a YA scifi/fantasy.  The others are more mainstream coming-of-age.  Again, more because that’s what’s available than out of any particular intention on my part.

My LGBT YA Bookshelf:

Annie On My Mind (1982) by Nancy Garden: This was the first lesbian novel I ever read.  I bought it for a friend of mine when she’d told me she was bisexual our Freshman year of high school, and then read it myself as well.  It is a classic about two teenage girls who fall in love and have to learn how to live their lives when no one around them can understand except for two teachers who happen to know exactly how they feel.  Eventually, the  girls’ secret is revealed to their parents and the rest of the school and the fall-out is enormous.  It is a touching and believable story that all questioning girls should read.

Please Don’t Kill the Freshman(2003) by Zoe Trope:  This book actually began as a chapbook memoir written by a girl under the pseudonym Zoe Trope.  All the characters have names based on a characteristic like “Linux Shoe” and “Plum Sweater,” but all of these characters are painfully, shockingly real.  This diary-esque memoir follows tortured, sharp-tongued Zoe through high school as she deals with the growing apathy of the world, her disdain for everything around her, and the her complicated transgendered relationship with her first girlfriend who becomes her first boyfriend.  This book is profanity-laced, stream-of-consciousness in style, gut-wrenchingly raw, and painfully familiar to anyone who want through high school in the late 90s-early 2000s.

Empress of the World (2001) by Sara Ryan:  This is the story of Nicola Lancaster who goes to a Summer Program for Gifted Youth, a camp filled with intelligent, artistic, and intense highschoolers all living like college students for 8 weeks.  Nicola has never really had friends, and she’s never been in a relationship.  Then she meets Battle Davies, a beautiful, passionate girl who claims Nicola’s heart despite the fact that Nicola always thought she liked boys.  This one is short, smart, and intense, with a bittersweet ending that leaves you wanting more.

The Rules for Hearts(2007) by Sara Ryan: Thankfully, where Empress of the World leave you wanting, Rules for Hearts at least begins to answer.  This one follows Battle in her first year of college, when she moves in with her older brother in his Bohemian apartment building filled with strange characters who all work at a local theatre, including Meryl.  But while much of the focus of this book is obviously on the complicated intertwined relationships of the theatre crew, and how Battle gets swept up into it with Meryl, it also deals heavily with Battle’s relationship with her brother, who had run away without a word years before.

Keeping You A Secret (2003) by Julie Anne Peters: This one is another classic.  Julie Anne Peters has written a number of YA novels with LGBT themes, including one called Luna, about a transgendered boy and one called Between Mom and Jo, which is about a teenage boy raised by his lesbian mothers (neither of which I’ve read yet).  Keeping You A Secret is one of my favorites because it deals with a high school girl with the perfect boyfriend, who suddenly finds herself absolutely fascinated with the new girl: who happens to be an out lesbian.  The romance of this one moves quickly but believably, and the real tension and some terrifying moments (for me at least) come when she has to face her mother.

Far From Xanadu (2005) by Julie Anne Peters: Another one by Julie Anne Peters, this one is about a girl who goes by “Mike” and lives in a small Midwest farming town.  She is the classic tomboy: dressed like a boy, prefers sports and working as a farmhand, and lifts weights.  Her life is already complicated by her father’s suicide and the competition she’s put herself in against her older brother.  Things get even more complicated when she falls in love with the new girl, Xanadu: gorgeous, exotic, rebellious, contrary… and straight.  I think I like this one because it doesn’t have an exactly happy ending.  (Julie Anne Peters newest book, Rage: A Love Story, came out in 2009.  I haven’t read it yet, but I just bought it, so you might be hearing about that one eventually.)

Hero (2007) by Perry Moore:  Last, but not least, my only LGBT YA novel about a gay male, and my only one that is also a scifi/fantasy. Hero is about Thom, son of Hal Creed, who was the greatest of all superheroes until a horrible event left him disfigured and disgraced.  This event also led to the disappearance of Thom’s mother.  Hal wants to keep his son out of the superhero game.  But Thom’s father doesn’t know two things about his son: one, he has special healing abilities; and two, he’s starting realize he may be gay.  Thom isn’t sure which fact is going to disappoint his father more, and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure he never has to find out.  I love this one because I love it when authors try to find ways to make superheroes fit into the framework of a more realistic worldview.

So, there’s my LGBT YA bookshelf.

If you’d like to share any you’ve read, I’d love to hear about them.  I’m always in need of my book suggestions!  If you’ve written one, that’s even better!  If you have questions about any of these, I’m more than happy to elaborate as well.  Please feel free to chime in!

Also, again, make sure you read the original article written by Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith.  You can find it: here.

And for another reaction to the “Say Yes to Gay YA” article, please read Kait Nolan’s “Don’t Kill Diversity.”

For a rebuttal from the agents discussed in the Brown and Smith article please go here.  It is important to look at all sides of this issue.

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23 thoughts on “My LGBT YA Bookshelf

  1. For some reason I can’t login to wordpress to comment, but I have a blog at megsfitness.wordpress.com

    Anyway.. it think that it’s great that you posted this here. I identify with the “A” part of GLBTA – I’m part of the straight alliance for equal rights. I don’t know if that’s an actual group, but it should be 😉

    I’d like to share this post on my facebook. I hope it starts a healthy discussion on the subject!

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad you liked the post, and I would definitely welcome you spreading the word on facebook. I wish more people were aware of this kind of discrimination.

  2. Hello Amands, since 2004 I’ve been blogging world wide about LGBT issues. My aim has always being to educate the mainstream at large in a light and human fashion. Any gay or transgendered person that face the mainstream world, will say that most negativity and lack of tolerance comes out of fear due to the unknown. At times. fed by the old and chronic lies such as, gay and TG people aim to make this world like themselves. Particularly with children. The results of the efforts of many religious groups that teach intolerance at home, schools and the voting campaigns.
    Starting in early 2008 I gradually removed all my blogs, shut my pages and step away from my educational advocate goals. I focused in lobbying our government, starting by my local legislators. From time to time people ask me if I believe my efforts improved anything. An almost impossible question to respond. On one side, many of my blog readers took the time to read me and only to vent their anger and lack of tolerance. It wasn’t rare to find hate mail in my box and I received a few personal threats during that time. So, on that end, I feel, I only fed the fire. On the other side, interacting personally with people made me to witness: the human (“normal”) factor in most people same that opened a little window in them. I’ve not found a potential friend among those, but as well, found no enemies.
    During 2006 writing for a TG magazine I interviewed several known people in the LGBT advocacy world. I wasn’t surprised to find out that gay and transgendered people, although they are not against each other, only take in account of their own battle and as a different account to the other realm. As well, I was told by many involved in the fight towards our civil rights, the TG world is no less than 20 years behind, compared to the gay community. Go figure!
    Being a Transsexual, I have a personal interest to contribute as much as I can. But we are just a few doing so in the country. In fact, just like in the case of the gay community, only one individual among many dozens actively participate in lobbying/advocating. Therefore I conclude, it is of utmost importance to count with – not only support from the mainstream community – but a sound contribution to resolve this incredibly stupid and inhuman condition that still prevails in the 21st century. Our fight is about the very same civil rights contemplated in the Constitution of The United States of America and anyone takes for granted. What’s wrong with this picture?
    However, many corporations are providing their grain of salt towards our goals. Including the media. Hopefully one day soon, still during my time, we all witness that this unfair attitude and denial of basic rights is removed forever. All is needed is to make our local and federal governments to endorse, enforce and observe that these minorities receive what is right. I wonder . . .
    I am back to blogging again and I hope one day I gather a good number of readers, so my efforts, do a little something towards our gains.
    I thank you for making a point in your blog about this issue and I hope that you get a sound and positive response. Although it is true we are a minority among minorities, the most overwhelming factor for all of us, is that the majority actually is against us. That can only be changed with and through the participation of the mainstream people.
    I thank you for your part and I wish you the best.

    • I completely agree. It is a an enormous tragedy that even among other minorities LGBT concerns are often ignored or even reviled, and that even among the LGBT community sometimes each sub-group keeps themselves and does not concern themselves with supporting the other groups. I just cannot understand this attitude. I am a firm believer in universal equality and respect. I understand on a simple practical level that most prejudice comes out of fear and ignorance, but on a deeper level I am unable to really comprehend that kind of thinking, but I am absolutely incapable of thinking that way myself.

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. And I’m glad you liked the post. I have thus far avoided saying too much about LGBT issues on this blog for fear of offending some people. I suspect I will no doubt lose a few readers because of this post. But I’m done being quiet.

      Thank you again.

  3. I have noticed more and more where horror authors will have gay (usually male) characters in their short stories (haven’t read about one in a novel yet though), but then horror is a genre that is kind of outside the mainstream so maybe it is seen as more “acceptable” that characters are of a different orientation…I’m not sure. Now and then you’ll see mention of homosexuality in different adult fantasy, but it isn’t very often.I don’t read YA, so I can’t really comment when it comes to that.

    I’ve been considering the idea of factoring in more minority characters into my own writing, but there are a couple of roadblocks I have to that…the main one that I don’t usually describe my characters very much, so if a protagonist is black/white/etc that’s up to the reader. I feel that puts them in the action more, when I basically let them imagine the character as they see fit. Plus, I write about an area that is a close facsimile to my home, and there really aren’t a ton of minorities here, be they racial or gender.

    All of that being said, you’ve given me food for thought. I’m going to have to look into broadening my character demographic rather than having a bunch of white bread fellas like myself getting munched by monsters all the time, haha.

    It is important though that our fiction reflects how people really live, and how they really are. I most often (since, let’s face it, most people don’t read my stuff anyway) try to use science to show people that there is nothing wrong with someone who is LGBT…well, a mix of science and spirituality.

    According to Biology, the differences genetically speaking between two people (be they of different ethnicity, orientations, genders, etc) is about .1%, if that. That’s all. That tiny percentage is responsible for all the human diversity we see in the world. We really are more similar than we are different. Thus, “race” does not exist, biologically speaking. There is only our species, homo sapiens sapiens.

    There’s also been some interesting work when it comes to homosexuality and genetics which I won’t go in to here, but suffice it to say that the far religious Right is wrong, that homosexuality starts with biology, and is thus as much of a choice as handedness or height or “race”.

    • I’m not sure I agree with the biology argument. Maybe… I don’t know, I haven’t read enough about it to be convinced for or against, but my concern is that once scientists say they can pinpoint the gene or whatever that causes homosexuality the far Right and other anti-gay groups are going to return to the insistence that its a disease (or in this case genetic mutation or some such nonsense) that can be “cured.” And that is EXTREMELY problematic. Obviously.

      I think we would be far better off if someone could find a way to prove the argument that human beings are at their very basics have no proclivity in either direction (are, I guess, essentially bisexual), and that it is through socialization and personal experience that people become one thing or the other.

      I suppose, really, that’s a discussion for another day though. In any case, I’m glad my post got you thinking. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Great comments, Amanda, and I’ll be throwing the books you’ve listed onto my TBR pile. I’ve been thinking hard about this entire issue, and how it is symptomatic of a much larger issue with homophobia in the US. Tackling the YA book industry is one piece of a larger mosaic, but one that is crucial.

    Thanks for writing this post!

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    • I’d definitely recommend them. I’d highly recommend Please Don’t Kill the Freshman if you choose just one. It’s not JUST about lgbt themes, there’s lots about the usual high school angst and “finding yourself” and the diary-like almost stream-of-consciousness voice of the narrator is provocative and passionate. (Just be prepared for LOTS of cursing).

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  7. Thank you for the recommendations, Amanda! I will have to check them out. This discussion has been very interesting to me because I’m currently writing dystopian YA with a gay character – not main, but one of the POVs, and apparently it was the same instance here. Not sure if I buy the response from the agency…especially not the part at the end that insinuates that those stories aren’t being published because people aren’t reading them. It’s like the serpent eating its own tale – maybe people aren’t reading them because they’re not being published?

  8. Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    Two YA series that I adore have gay side characters: Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series and Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. Part of why I like them so well is that they treat the gay characters as people, rather than curiosities or icons. The message from these two writers seems to be that people are just people, and some happen to be gay. Which is wonderfully refreshing.

    As a fanfic author, I have read (and written) quite a lot of slash-fic (so named because of the “/” between the name of the two romantically involved m/m or f/f characters, I think). I think that, because fanfic is already a fringe group in and of itself, a lot of its authors feel more free to explore. In fact, there’s almost a tendency to look down on straight pairings in a lot of fanfic, especially if the love interest is an original character.

    • I only read the first of the Mortal Instruments series, but I LOVED Magnus. I keep planning on reading the rest of that series, but I just haven’t around to it yet. (Though I’ll admit that the VERY STAR-WARS-ESQUE ending of the first book really put me off for awhile.)

      And I too have read many a slashy fanfic. And there are some tv shows I just can’t help but watch with my slash-glasses on — I mentioned in a previous blog that I can’t watch Rizzoli and Isles any other way. ^__^

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  10. Amanda, thanks for this post and the list! I’m a school library technician for grades 7-12, and we have a pretty good collection of LGBT material, but a few of these were new to me. (Please Don’t Kill the Freshman, and The Rules For Hearts) We have LOTS of kids who check out any and all books with gay characters. Boys and girls both. Obviously the gay kids are very eager to read anything that might reflect their experiences, but also the straight girls seem to LOVE reading about gay boys.
    Also- I know you said this was a discussion for another day, but regarding the genetics issue, I myself am a gay dude, and there was never any choice involved. I was gay from day 1, and there was no trauma or anything environmental that made me that way. My parents were great, I always felt loved, etc. Just thought I’d chime in with that! 🙂

    • The one thing to watch out for with Please Don’t Kill the Freshman is that the language does get rather strong on a occasion. The author certainly did like her profanity.

      I love hearing the experience of a librarian, so thanks so much for commenting!

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