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.