by Nathaniel Harrington
Tyson Rua has more than his fair share of problems growing up in South Auckland. Working a night job to support his mother and helping bring up his two younger brothers is just the half of it. His best friend Rawiri is falling afoul of a broken home, and now Tyson’s fallen in love at first sight.
Only thing is, it’s another guy.
Living life on the sidelines of the local hip-hop scene, Tyson finds that to succeed in becoming a local graffiti artist or in getting the man of his dreams, he’s going to have to get a whole lot more involved. And that means more problems. The least of which is the leader of the local rap crew he’s found himself running with. Love, life, and hip-hop never do things by half.
Trigger warnings: homophobic slurs and the threat of homophobic violence, domestic violence, recreational drug use, racism.
My rating on Goodreads: 4/5 stars
Before I start, I should note that I’m approaching Tama Wise’s Street Dreams (Bold Strokes Books, 2012) as an outsider to the community in which the book is set — indeed, the disconnect between Tyson (as a poor, gay Māori man) and the white gay community to which I belong is one of the central components of the book. I am neither Māori nor from even New Zealand — I’m a white settler from the United States whose family is not poor, both my parents are still alive, and I’m not especially into hip-hop or knowledgeable about it as a scene.
Bearing all that in mind, and understanding that there are undoubtedly things I missed about the book as a result of my extremely privileged position relative to its main character, I’d like to talk a bit about why I liked it. This review will contain some minor spoilers, but I’ll try to keep big stuff out.
For starters, there are the usual suspects. While the book isn’t only a coming out story, Tyson’s coming out is a large part of it, and I think it’s really, really well handled and very relatable. Wise perfectly captures the anxiety, the struggle to find the right moment:
Tyson stared, his mind sitting on the edge. The words hung on his tongue, waiting to be uttered. Rawiri was too busy watching the silent television to notice.
I also thought Tyson’s crush on Marc was very well-handled, both narratively and as a representation of what a straight crush feels like.
But there are other books that do these things well, so I’m going to move on to talking about four things Street Dreams does that I think are different and make it worth a look.
- Home as a source of strength: a lot of LGBTQ YA has a somewhat strained relationship with home (from Rafe feeling stifled in Boulder in Openly Straight to the community-wide homophobia in Ask the Passengers to active homophobic violence). Characters want to somehow escape their homes and families and go where the grass is greener and they can redefine themselves. Street Dreams does the opposite: while Siege (the leader of the local hip-hop crew mentioned in the blurb) is emphatic about wanting to “get out” of the community, Tyson’s anxieties stem from a desire to stay in his community, help support his family, and find a place for himself locally. He might not want to live in his family’s house any more, but he doesn’t want to leave South Auckland. Stories where being LGBTQ and finding a comfortable place for yourself at home (in a broader sense than having a supportive immediate family) aren’t mutually exclusive are important, especially when they’re set in a greater variety of locations than generic American suburbia.
- The intersection of race and sexuality: this is really important and not something LGBTQ YA about white teens can adequately address. Tyson concisely summarizes some of his anxieties about this in conversation with William, who runs a local gay support group:
“I guess guys like me ain’t gay.”
“When you say guys like you, you mean Māori guys?”
Tyson scowled at that, but refused to pick at that particular sore. He shrugged, fighting to find the words to explain it. He hated having to explain himself. “I mean guys like me. Guys who like the stuff I do, and yeah…brown guys too. Like I said, I guess guys like me ain’t gay.”
Tyson has to deal with the disconnect between all the images of gayness that he’s been presented with — all white, with a certain quantifiable “look” — and himself. Representation matters. Also worth mentioning is the scene where Tyson goes to a local gay club and is told by a guy he approaches that “I don’t do brown”: racism is alive and well in the LGBTQ community, and not just in whitewashed representations thereof.
- Support from the gay community: there are counterpoints to the above, though, especially William and (however imperfectly) Jason, another support group attendee who accompanies Tyson to the club. I suspect William’s words of wisdom may be Tama Wise’s personal message for young Māori men: “…if it’s a guy you want, you will get one in time. You don’t need to rush things, even if it feels like you don’t have all the time in the world.” Some of the rhetoric is a little It-Gets-Better-ish, but sometimes we all need a reminder that “you’re not the only one”, and in light of Tyson’s struggle to reconcile himself with his ideas about what it means to be gay, this is especially important.
- Class (/settler colonialism): Wise doesn’t pull any punches here, either. The Rua family is struggling financially. Tyson’s job is on the night shift, meaning he gets up and goes to work when the rest of his family is going to bed and returns when they’re all getting up to go to work and school, and it takes a real toll on him. His best friend Rawiri is dealing with domestic violence. Tyson’s community is poor and predominantly Māori in a country dominated by white settlers — of whom his crush, Marc, is one (and a rich one, at that).
Street Dreams covers a lot of ground. I should probably note here that there are both a masturbation scene and a sex scene in the book, although neither is especially explicit — the book overall isn’t much more explicit than, say, Grasshopper Jungle, and spends a lot less time focused on the main character’s genitals.
The writing does sometimes feel a bit stilted and thesaurus-y. Some of that may be an attempt by Wise to capture actual South Auckland Māori speech patterns, and if anyone from the area reads this and wants to chime in, I’d be happy to hear one way or another. But that’s my only real criticism, and the only thing keeping me from giving this book 4.5 or a full 5 stars.
On a broader concluding note: I agree up to a point with the rhetoric of “we need more than coming out stories”, in that I want to see books with LGBTQ characters in a wide range of situations and settings, fighting dragons, solving mysteries, and whatever else. But I also firmly believe that as long as there are people who struggle to come out, as long as there are people who have to wonder how telling people they’re gay (lesbian, bi, trans, what have you) will affect their relationships with family, friends, and community, the coming out story will continue to be relevant.
On top of that, while some readers may feel overwhelmed by coming out stories, I think it’s worth remembering that the “coming out story” as a subgenre has been (like most of LGBTQ fiction) dominated by stories about white people. Street Dreams is a welcome and important change of pace, and I hope that we will see more books like it, written by members of communities that have thus far not been well-represented in LGBTQ YA.
by Jennifer Polish
So Dumbledore and Gandalf got married.
At the suggestion of J.K. Rowling.
And all the fandoms rode off into the proverbial sunset.
But that’s not the entire story.
In the same episode of Doctor Who that Shakespeare was portrayed as bisexual (I punched the air myself before remembering I was watching it with a straight cis guy who was glaring at me), the Doctor proclaims – after saving the world with the iconic spell Expelliarmus! (please don’t ask how) – “Good old J.K.!”
Which is largely what the queer interwebs have been saying of late: Good old J.K.!
Because who doesn’t enjoy watching the Westboro Baptist Church be kicked where it hurts most on Twitter by a world-famous author?
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 23, 2015
.@WBCsigns Alas, the sheer awesomeness of such a union in such a place would blow your tiny bigoted minds out of your thick sloping skulls.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 26, 2015
Headlines abound about the author of the Harry Potter series “blasting” the Westboro Baptist Church. In case you missed it, after they threatened to picket Dumbledore and Gandalf’s Irish wedding (!!!!), Rowling tweeted back at them: “Alas, the sheer awesomeness of such a union in such a place would blow your tiny bigoted minds out of your thick sloping skulls.” Following up on this, she tweeted again, to explain why she snapped back at the extremist group: “I don’t care about WBC. I think it’s important that scared gay kids who aren’t out yet see hate speech challenged.”
And yes, yes it is! So… good old J.K.!
But I worry. I worry that we are too eager to give straight cis folks cookies for offering us such basic support: Rowling had absolutely nothing to lose from responding to WBC’s tweet in the way that she did. And since she has the platform that she has… why wouldn’t she?
I know not everyone would. So yes, what she did is great. And important. Yes. It’s always amusing to watch WBC be embarrassed, and more importantly, Rowling is absolutely right about it being essential for young queer kids to witness “hate speech” being challenged.
What about when I was a young queer kid? When I was growing up reading Harry Potter, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Ron wouldn’t just own up to his sexual tension with Harry, why Ginny didn’t coax Hermione through her fear about falling in love with Luna? Or, for that matter, why no one – no one – in all of Hogwarts was portrayed by Rowling as anything other than a straight cis (mostly) able-bodied white person (except for a few token people of color)?
Sure, it’s great that Rowling is so “out” about queer rights now. And sure, she’s said that Dumbledore is gay now.
Maybe I’m just bitter.
But where were my out witches and wizards while I was reading Harry Potter, good old J.K.?
Because I was a young queer kid, too, and only queer fan fiction (you know, like the ones you’ve threatened law suits over) got me through.
Good old J.K. indeed: but for some of us, it’s a little late in coming.
We are HUGE fans of Robin Talley’s debut novel Lies We Tell Ourselves. Today, we are THRILLED to reveal the gorgeous new cover that this fantastic book will soon be getting! We also got to talk to Robin Talley and her kick ass editor T.S. Ferguson about the cover redesign, representation, and Robin’s forthcoming projects.
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.
Without further ado, here’s the new cover of Lies We Tell Ourselves!
IS IT NOT JUST GORGEOUS AND FANTASTIC AND EVERYTHING YOU COULD WANT IN A COVER FOR THIS BOOK. I will totally be buying another copy just for this cover!
Here’s what Robin & T.S. have to say about the cover, representation, and more!
Vee: We LOVE the new cover. Did you have any input in the new design? And what do you think of it?
Robin: Thank you! I think it’s really quite gorgeous. As for input, I actually didn’t know that there was going to be a new design for the paperback until there was already a draft in the works, so it was quite a surprise! It’s very different from the hardcover design, which I adored.
But what’s great about the paperback version is that you can really get a good look at both Sarah and Linda. I think both of the models do a great job of embodying the characters as I’d envisioned them. I also love how they’re both looking straight at you. I think it makes them both look very smart, very astute, which is fitting with how I see the characters.
Also, of interest to GayYA readers, there’s a small but significant tweak to the back cover copy from the hardcover version, too. This one was my editor T.S.’s idea. The hardcover back copy refers to Sarah and Linda having to deal with “how they really feel about one another.” The new copy changes that to “the fact that they may be falling for one another.”
To me, as a queer reader, the original copy was plain as day about the fact that this is a girl/girl story ― but apparently that wasn’t the case for all readers, because we heard from quite a few people who were surprised to realize Sarah and Linda weren’t straight. So T.S. made that tweak to the new copy so now there will be no mistaking it.
I’m really pleased about that, because I want to make sure this book is accessible to teens and other readers who may be specifically seeking out stories with QUILTBAG characters. There are still few enough of these stories out there that I think we need to make sure they’re easy to find.
V: What was most exciting to write in Lies We Tell Ourselves, and what did you find most challenging?
R: To tell you the most exciting part to write would actually be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that it’s the last line of chapter 26. (No skipping ahead if you haven’t read it yet!)
The most challenging part of writing this book was getting into Linda’s head. The way she thinks, especially at the beginning of the story, defies logic and understanding. I didn’t realize how big a job I was taking on when I first decided to have her narrate half the story. I doubt I’ll ever write from a point of view like hers again ― in addition to being incredibly difficult, it was also pretty devastating to try to spend time inside her mental space, but that’s what I had to do to make it through her chapters.
V: The Queer YA community has been interested in “happy f/f” recently. Without spoiling the book, did you make a conscious decision to let your characters end the book on an up note?
R: Not really. With some books, I know how they’ll end from the very beginning of the writing process, but Lies was not one of those. It took several months of working on the story before the ending began to take shape in my mind.
I was consciously thinking, though, that these characters, especially Sarah, had been through so much ― I couldn’t just leave them where they were. I wanted to put them on a path to a better future and a better world.
V: One of the main characters in Lies We Tell Ourselves is bisexual, but the book doesn’t use the word. You’ve spoken about your increasing awareness of bisexual erasure and the importance of calling bi characters bi — and done a great job of IDing Sarah as bi via social media. How has becoming more educated about the specific issues surrounding bisexual representation influenced your writing, and how do you think the community can get this information out to writers who are writing bisexual characters today?
R: I actually think both of the main characters in Lies would identify as bisexual if they were familiar with the concept as we know it today. In fact, they sort of come close ― at one point in the book Linda tries to get a copy of Alfred Kinsey’s book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which came out six years before Lies takes place. That book would’ve introduced them to the idea of bisexuality, but ultimately they aren’t able to get a copy, and they wind up reading depressing lesbian pulp fiction instead.
In the 1950s ― and, sadly, still today in many places ― there was a concerted effort in place to prevent children and teenagers from having access to honest sex education. Linda and Sarah aren’t familiar with the term bisexual or even with gay or lesbian. They might’ve heard homosexual or queer, but they would view those terms with revulsion and never want to apply them to themselves. (And they likely would’ve assumed those terms could only apply to men, anyway.)
So far, though, all of my other books are set in the present day, and I’m making a concerted effort in them to be as specific with labels as I can. My next book, What We Left Behind, is probably too label-heavy for its own good, since identity is a major theme of the plot. But for my next book after that ― As I Descended, a lesbian retelling of Macbeth coming out in 2016 ― the main character, Maria, has had relationships with both boys and girls, but in my drafts of the book I never had her actually specify a label for her sexual orientation. I assumed her relationship history would speak for itself.
As I’ve spent more time in the YA social media world, though, I’m starting to better appreciate how important it is for labels to be spelled out ― not just for sexual orientation, but for other aspects of identity. So I’m trying to make a more conscious effort to specify exactly how my characters see themselves. Not all of them will have labels that they’re comfortable using yet (as was the case for me in my teen years). But I’m revising As I Descended to have Maria explicitly describe herself as bi in the text.
When I was in high school in the 90s I never expected to read about a character who was in the same place as me in terms of identity. I can imagine, though, how amazing it would’ve been if I had encountered a story like that. And today’s teens actually have the opportunity to see themselves reflected on the pages of the books they choose to read. I want to contribute to that as much as I possibly can, and I hope other writers will feel the same way.
V: We are so excited for your upcoming book, What We Left Behind. What can you tell us about it?
R: I can tell you:
- That it’s coming out in October
- That the lead character identifies as genderqueer (and the co-lead identifies as gay)
- That it’s set during the first semester at college for the main characters, who are a pair of high-school sweethearts
- That almost every significant character is somewhere on the QUILTBAG spectrum
- And that it’s my favorite book I’ve ever written, with characters who are so close to my heart I sometimes forget they aren’t real. I can’t wait to let them loose into the world. I hope you guys love them too!
V: We just LOVE this cover for Lies We Tell Ourselves. What do you hope this new cover will communicate to readers about the book?
T.S.: I hope readers will see this cover and immediately understand that this is a historical novel about two girls, one black and one white (with all the implications that go along with that premise). But more importantly, I hope this cover is striking enough and beautiful enough for potential readers to pick it up, read what it’s about, and get pulled in from there.
V: One of the things we love about this redesigned cover is the prominence of a POC. (And the FACE! Are we past the era of weird hip shots and cut off heads? One can dream.) Was that a deliberate decision to push back against some of the troubling cover trends in YA?
T.S.: The decision to show a black girl on the cover was most definitely a deliberate decision to push back against these cover trends. I was lucky enough that my entire team backed me in this decision from the very beginning of our cover discussions for the hardcover. I said “I think it’s important to show a black girl on this cover, especially given the theme of the book. No silhouettes, no birds, and if we can only show one of the girls, it has to be Sarah.”
When we started discussions for this paperback redesign, that sentiment held true. While we wanted the cover to be a bit more commercial than the hardcover, and hopefully reach a wider audience, we never discussed taking Sarah off the cover. Having her there was a must!
V: One of the things we have heard about the lack of POC on covers is that there are few stock photos of POC, so putting images on the cover means a full photo shoot to get something suitable. Did you find this to be the case? And what was the process like of developing this (gorgeous, amazing) cover?
T.S.: I’ve definitely heard that it’s harder to find stock photos featuring models of color, but since I’m not a designer, I’m not sure how true that really is. The process for this cover seemed really simple. Our design team showed me four different concepts to start with, each with different black models featured, and this concept was the one we all fell in love with.
I’m really excited about this direction because, while I usually let the designers do their own thing and then give my feedback, I had given them one very specific direction (in case they needed inspiration), and this was it. My vision was to show the girls side by side against a 1950s/1960s wallpaper, and have the image saturated as if it was an old black & white photo that had been colorized. They really delivered on that vision in such a beautiful way and I’m so pleased with it. I hope readers love it as much as I do.
by Casey Lawrence
This past May my first book, Out of Order, was published through Dreamspinner Press’s YA branch Harmony Ink. My first foray into queer YA has been, on the one hand, a whirlwind of excitement, and on the other, a huge let down. My book will never be a New York Times Bestseller, and I’ve made my peace with that. It will never win awards, sit on Indigo shelves, be translated into a dozen languages. This isn’t because my main character is a biracial, bisexual teenaged girl or because my writing style is still growing, still changing from day to day. I think, ultimately, it’s because I didn’t think big enough.
My main character, Corey Nguyen, is a bisexual WOC in small town USA. Her experiences are not like my own, but I still drew on my high school memories to write her story; her high school had a GSA only because she pushed for it. It was small, inadequate, and none of its members supported or relied on each other. The book only has two central LGBT characters, Corey and Kate, and neither of them have any experience being queer. They’re still figuring things out, just like I was in high school.
So I’ll admit it: with Out of Order, I fell into certain stereotypes. I didn’t even know that some of them were stereotypes, like that f/f romances in YA never have happy endings. But I fell into the traps that have been set up for people like me by years of precedence: Confused Bisexuals. Ambiguously Bi. The One Exception. Turned Gay. All of these things are tropes I didn’t know I was using, clichés drawn on for lack of a bigger understanding.
I’m working on doing better now, but this is something I will always struggle with as an author of queer YA; how far is too far? How can I make this as diverse as possible without alienating a huge segment of potential readers?
Writing a sequel to a book you’re not entirely happy with anymore is incredibly difficult. In my case, I’ve been struggling with it for longer than it took me to write the first one. But there are some things I feel I’m obligated to fix now. Corey deserves a second shot at this, a second chance to break down the barriers that have been placed around her as a bisexual YA character. I want to address the issues that she and I both face every day, but I have to do it without making my book an Afterschool Special. With YA, you have so little space to work with to do all of the big things you want to accomplish.
I’ve changed so much since I graduated high school. I’ve realised that in the real world, when you’ve not grown up with the same group of kids for years and years, queer people flock together. Pride groups and GSAs exist but so do gay bars, LGBT bookstores, online communities. There are good things out there, and bad things too. Bisexual erasure, biphobia, mental health stigma. The events of my first novel have left my protagonist in a unique position; university won’t be a fresh start for her to explore this new world. She has so much baggage to drag along with her, baggage I never had to carry, which is what’s making my Big Gay Sequel so hard to write.
My cast of characters has multiplied and diversified. My fictional world has grown wider and deeper. And yet I don’t feel satisfied. No matter how many gay, lesbian, bi, and trans characters I add, I feel like I should be doing more. That my work should be making some grand statement. That I’m not doing enough.
And so my Big Gay Sequel is slowly becoming my Little Bisexual Follow-Up instead. The thing about sequels is that they need to be able to stand alone, to be just as entertaining and authentic as the first story, and to add something new and fresh. I’m probably never going to win any of the big awards or be a household name. But that’s okay as long as I like what I’m writing and I am satisfied that I’m doing the best I can.
It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be right.
Keep up with Casey Lawrence on her Twitter!
We’re so psyched to have the chance to talk with Corinne Duyvis, author of the fantastic queer YA fantasy Otherbound, about world-building, the work she’s done with DisabilityinKidLit, her queer SF/F wishlist, and much much more.
Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.
She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.
Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.
All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.
Vee: Hey Corinne! Thanks so much for joining us here on GayYA. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, and how you identify?
Corinne: So happy to be here! GayYA is a much-needed presence in the YA world.
I write YA and MG novels (though only the YAs are published so far), all in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. When you grow up on Goosebumps, Animorphs, and Harry Potter, it’s only natural! I’m Dutch—born and raised in Amsterdam—and I’m into comic books, krav maga, cats, and making lists for everything under the sun. I still live in Amsterdam now, with a chubby, not-too-bright cat as my roommate.
I’m bisexual and autistic, so it’s probably not a huge surprise that diversity is my jam. This manifests itself in various ways: I write diverse protagonists/worlds, co-edit Disability in Kidlit, and I’m a team member with We Need Diverse Books.
V: Your debut novel Otherbound was released last year which features (among many other things!) two queer girls. How did Otherbound first come into being?
C: My typical answer is: a mishmash of things. I had this one idea about something happening whenever someone closed their eyes, and this other idea about traveling between worlds, and something about invulnerability, and they kind of merged spontaneously at one point. Everything clicked into place pretty quickly.
The queer element of Otherbound wasn’t there at the beginning. There wasn’t any romance at all, in fact. I was plotting out the book and considering the interactions between Amara (main character) and Cilla (another prominent female character) and kind of fannishly went, “Haha, I so ship it.”
And then I realized I was writing my own book, which meant I could, in fact, ship them, and it would be super hella canon. I am in control.
That realization was oddly liberating. It’s astonishing how often we self-censor without even realizing it, whether because of concerns about The Market or because we’ve simply internalized how much diversity is “allowed” in a story. I figured that I already had two protagonists of color, two worlds almost entirely populated by people of color, multiple disabled characters—including both protagonists—et cetera. Surely it would be too much if I added queerness into the mix, too?
But why should it be? Why would two girls in a relationship be an added distraction, while a girl and a guy in a relationship would be normal and expected?
I still waffled on whether I wanted to go for it or not, partially because I wasn’t sure I could make it work with the complex power dynamics going on between the two of them. I decided to give it a try. Obviously, it stuck!
V: I was fascinated by all the levels of oppression and privilege you layered into Otherbound, particularly the nuanced depiction of its effects and how some of the power dynamics were opposite of our society. What was the process like for developing that?
C: I’d never had to build a secondary world before, and it was kind of petrifying. I was convinced I’d be awful at it. Then, when I actually started hashing out ideas, I found that I really enjoyed it. It was much more organic than I’d expected. I love playing with world rules, with what-ifs, and I’ve often been bothered by how, in some secondary worlds, the social norms are identical to ours for no clear reason. Sometimes these norms have a purpose in the story, and the author explores it in a meaningful way; other times, it feels as though people default to those norms, rather than it being a conscious choice they’re making.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have limitless freedom when it comes to secondary worlds. I loved putting that to work.
A lot of it is pure extrapolation. Examples:
A large part of the story is Amara protecting a rogue princess; therefore, I needed a monarchy that was recently overthrown. I dubbed their people Alineans.
I knew I wanted a very mixed world; therefore, I decided to have a recently (200 year-ish) settled part of land that functioned as sort of a trading outpost, drawing people from all over the world.
So, wait, how do I combine monarchy and distant trading outpost? Are the Alineans considering this a colony? Perhaps, but I need a local government for this plot to work. Let’s say this monarch appointed a branch of the royal family to rule this part of the world.
But then, wait, if the world is so mixed, odds are the people overthrowing the monarchy wouldn’t (all) be Alineans. Would the local Alinean population rise up and try to reclaim their rule? If they founded this outpost and have been the favored class for so long, I imagine they wouldn’t simply sit back. Maybe they’re outnumbered by now, since the trading outpost is located nearer to other countries than the Alinean homeland. What kind of dynamics would that create between these different groups, given this history? How would they perceive each other? How does this animosity play out in locations that have different racial make-up—for example, select cities or islands where Alineans are still in the majority—and how would it interact with class? Are Alineans still economically privileged more than a decade after the coup?
I didn’t want to simply mimic existing power structures and racial dynamics, basically. I tried to build it from the ground up, but implementing what I’ve learned about how these imbalances work in our world.
I applied the same logic to my local servant population. I came up with my own servant system, created a local lore around it, and considered how these different factors would affect the world, people, and dynamics. How might individual servants perceive themselves? What logic is being used to justify servitude? Do people genuinely believe this logic or do they realize that it’s bunk but play along anyway? How does the average citizen perceive servants? And how might this Alinean system of servants be perceived by other population groups, and how has the system been applied—and perhaps altered—in the years since the coup? And how would all this differ for servants like Amara, who grew up on the run, separated from the tightly knit servant culture that’s inevitably evolved?
And on and on. Every world-building choice has consequences in terms of the characters’ social standing. It has consequences for both the groups as a whole and for the individuals in their unique positions. It was a challenge keeping all of that straight, but the more the world came together, the more real it felt. Three-dimensional, breathing. Conveying this in the text was difficult, and I don’t know how well I succeeded, but the building, the way it took shape in my head … I loved it.
Even if the power structures are different and privilege and oppression play out in different ways, people will respond to them in very human ways: resentment, fear, internalized self-hate, dedication, pride, fury, resourcefulness. Some try to fight and others try to grind their teeth and bear it and others try to play the system and others accept their lot. However different a secondary world may be from ours, I do strongly believe you need a thorough understanding of how oppression works in our world on both a micro and macro level in order to extrapolate its effects to other worlds and situations.
V: The world of Otherbound is very complex, and I’m not just talking about the Dunelands. There was plenty of magic and complicated oddities going on. Is there anything in this rich world that you know about, but weren’t able to show in your book?
C: I should have considered this question more carefully before answering the previous one! Yes, there’s an awful lot going on behind the scenes. This was one of the most difficult parts of writing and editing the book: making sure I gave enough information to make the world understandable, to make the plot work, and perhaps to intrigue the reader—but never so much that it overwhelmed or confused them. So I held back a lot of information.
One element I enjoyed hashing out, but didn’t get to show as much of in the book, was the mage system. All five recurring population groups in the book perceive mages differently and have different lore surrounding them; there are also certain cultural associations with magic use. While there are of course many individual differences, some cultures embrace it, others fear it, and others reject it outright. This has consequences for how their mages are treated and what kind of code and rules mages are expected to abide by.
Bits and pieces show up in the book, but not nearly as much as I’d brainstormed behind the scenes.
V: What do you think your teen self’s reaction would be to reading Otherbound?
C: That is an interesting question! I’m not quite sure. I think I might’ve been intrigued by the character’s situations, but turned off by the expansive world, since a lot of the books teen!Corinne read at the time were much more straightforward world-wise. As much as I’d love to say that I would’ve loved and cherished Otherbound forevah and evah, I veered toward more commercial books.
I do think, though, that it would’ve been a real eye-opener to see two girls attracted to each other, particularly in a book that wasn’t about queerness at all. I don’t remember ever reading queer characters in books growing up (just graphic novels), which is kind of crushingly sad.
V: You co-run the fabulous blog Disability in Kidlit (which if anyone in our community doesn’t know about, definitely should). I’m curious, do you think running that blog has affected your own writing in any way?
C: Oh yes! Absolutely. For one, it made me realize just how many disabilities out there are never or rarely portrayed, and it made me want to write Every Single One of them. (Good luck with that, Corinne.) Interacting with contributors behind the scenes, hearing people’s reactions to our content, and of course reading the actual posts, makes the lack of (good) disability representation painfully clear. There’s so, so much to explore, and so, so many people are hungry for it.
Basically, I suspect I’d have a lot fewer disabled characters in my WIPs if I’d never started the site.
For another, it made me realize just how much I don’t know yet. I thought I was super savvy about disability stuff two years ago (Disability in Kidlit went live July 2013), but I’ve learned a lot since then, and it’s only made me realize how much there’s still left to learn. The website has made me much more conscious of how I depict disability; for example, while I’m generally happy with how I wrote the disabilities in Otherbound, there are things I’d do different were I writing the book now.
V: I recently learned that you are an artist as well as a writer! (And your art is just gorgeous.) Is there any way in which those things have had an impact each other?
C: Oh, thank you! That’s lovely to hear.
One obvious way is that it’s made me a very visual writer. I always have a very clear picture in my head of what my characters look like. I try not to let this seep into my books via endless physical descriptions, and art is a great outlet for that. I always doodle my characters to get a feel for them. It’s fun for me, and others may enjoy seeing my depictions of the characters.
V: In the recently released article LGBTQ Publishing Wishlist you give a great answer about what you’d like to see in queer YA. I wanted to ask: what are the top three queer stories/characters that you personally would like to see in SF/F?
A big one—which I also mentioned in the article—is that I really and truly want to see more trans protagonists in SF/F. (Particularly written by trans authors!) It’s astonishing that this … basically doesn’t exist.
(I’m working on it, unsurprisingly. We’ll see when or if that gets sold.)
This is another one I mentioned in the article, but I super want to see more queer communities portrayed in fiction. I mean, come on, we flock together, whether on purpose or subconsciously. The lone queer kid is an incredibly important narrative to feature, and something many of us can relate to, but it’s surprising to me how this seems to be the dominant narrative. Where are the gay protags with the gay best friends? Where’s the GSA kids at? Where are the after-school meetups with queer friends the protagonist met online?
I want to see this in contemporary fiction, but even more in SF/F, because it’s my genre of choice. It may be that people feel that this would be “too much.” It’s becoming more and more OK for a character to be incidentally queer in an SF/F story, thankfully, but the presence of an entire group of queer characters would mean the characters probably talk about their queerness, joke about their queerness, commiserate about experiences, talk about intra-community issues … all topics that come up to a greater or lesser degree in real-life meetings between queer people. And this would feel like an distraction in a plot-driven SF/F story, or like preaching, or like shoehorning in irrelevant queer content. It’s as though a certain percentage of queerness will automatically turn a book into a Queer Story, and those clearly have no place in SF/F.
(Screw that. Give me a GSA club caught in the zombie apocalypse.)
Well, that’s my theory for why we so rarely see it, anyway.
Finally, I want to see more queerness in traditionally very straight, cis narratives. For example, queer characters in the compulsorily cishet world of many dystopians. (Some books, like Phoebe North’s Starglass and Gennifer Albin’s Crewel, do address this. I’d love to see it as the focus though, with main characters rather than secondary characters.)
Or maybe two lovers destined to be together across time and across incarnations … but now maybe they’re both girls. Or one of them is non-binary and they’re really not keen on the gendered language in the prophecy. Or one of them is ace, and dang, that’s gonna get in the way of True Love’s Kiss.
There is so much potential out there, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store for us.
V: What’s next for you?
C: My next book is out spring 2016, and while its protagonist is straight, there are major queer/trans side characters. It’s called On the Edge of Gone; it’s a near-future sci-fi YA set in Amsterdam during an apocalyptic comet impact. The protagonist is a mixed Surinamese-Dutch autistic girl who believes she’s doomed until—only minutes before impact—she finds herself on a damaged generation ship, the last one remaining on Earth. All other ships have already fled the planet.
Engineers are working on repairs around the clock so the ship can escape the incoming impact winter and the comet’s disastrous after-effects, but she may not be allowed to stay for launch. She’ll have to prove her value on board … a task that’s made extra complicated by her mother’s irresponsibility, her sister’s disappearance, and the world around and inside her rapidly falling apart.
It’s a very personal story, and one I’m excited to share.
I’m also working on several MGs—an alternate-world sci-fi, a current-day sci-fi, and a quirky horror—and playing around with ideas for various YAs. (Incidentally, all those YAs feature queer girl leads, because of course.) None of these are under contract yet, so we’ll see which one ends up being book #3. Place your bets!
The Queer YA Scrabble Giveaway is now over… but the auction is just starting! You can still get all of the fabulous prizes in Team Dragon’s Prize Box– plus some fabulous critique opportunities with editors and agents. All of the proceeds will go to the amazing organization Stonewall UK.
The auction closes on June 14th– start bidding now, and get your friends involved, too! We’re hoping to raise a really solid amount to donate to Stonewall UK to help support the amazing work they’re doing.
Go here to bid, and take a look at all the amazing prizes you’ll get if you win!
Make sure to check out the boxes of the other teams too! So many fabulous things to bid on out there. Visit the Queer YA Scrabble home page to check out the other teams!
For a sneak peek from one of the books you’d get if you bid on this package…
From A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke
I took my phone out and tried to ignore Jamie staring at me. It was a text from Kate, asking if I’d enjoyed the procession. She said she’d been able to see the fireworks from Portobello. She liked that we’d both been watching the same thing at the same time. She said it was the next best thing to being together. Kate was always sending sweet messages like that — little things that would make me smile and feel good about myself no matter what was happening around me. Those messages were like oxygen to me.
There weren’t going to be any more messages like that from Kate. I was looking at the very last one. I stared at it until the words went blurry. And then I realised the words hadn’t gone blurry at all – there was a film of tears in front of my eyes. I blinked hard until they went away.
Kate’s message didn’t make me smile and feel good about myself this time. It made me feel like I was choking. It was too much — the thought of her looking at the fireworks, feeling happy and excited, hopeful about the future, while I looked up at them knowing it was over.
I would never see her again. Not unless we passed each other in the street one day. I’d already thought of that.
June 1st (USA)
Love Spell by Mia Kerick — (G,Q)
Goodreads Summary: “Strutting his stuff on the catwalk in black patent leather pumps and a snug orange tuxedo as this year’s Miss (ter) Harvest Moon feels so very right to Chance César, and yet he knows it should feel so very wrong.
As far back as he can remember, Chance has been “caught between genders.” (It’s quite a touchy subject; so don’t ask him about it.) However, he does not question his sexual orientation. Chance has no doubt about his gayness—he is very much out of the closet at his rural New Hampshire high school, where the other students avoid the kid they refer to as “girl-boy.”
But at the local Harvest Moon Festival, when Chance, the Pumpkin Pageant Queen, meets Jasper Donahue, the Pumpkin Carving King, sparks fly. So Chance sets out, with the help of his BFF, Emily, to make “Jazz” Donahue his man.
An article in an online women’s magazine, Ten Scientifically Proven Ways to Make a Man Fall in Love with You (with a bonus love spell thrown in for good measure), becomes the basis of their strategy to capture Jazz’s heart.
Quirky, comical, definitely flamboyant, and with an inner core of poignancy, Love Spell celebrates the diversity of a gender-fluid teen.”
June 2nd (USA)
*GAY YA’S BOOK CLUB PICK FOR JUNE!*
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera — (G)
Goodreads Summary: “Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.
When it first gets announced, the Leteo Institute’s memory-alteration procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto—miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends all seem to shrug him off, and how his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. He has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession over the Scorpius Hawthorne books and has a sweet movie set-up on his roof. There are nicknames. Aaron’s not only able to be himself, but happiness feels easy with Thomas. The love Aaron discovers may cost him what’s left of his life, but since Aaron can’t suddenly stop being gay Leteo may be the only way out.”
June 2nd (USA)
Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen — (Gay parent)
Goodreads Summary: “A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness.
Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.
Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.
June 4th (USA)
The Geek and His Artist by Hope Ryan — (G)
Goodreads Summary: “Simon Williams spends his lunch periods drawing his geek and trying not to think about the terrors waiting for him at home. He needs to get away from his abusive father before he suffers the same grisly fate as his mother. Because he’s learned the hard way running away doesn’t work, he’s counting the days until his eighteenth birthday.
Jimmy Bennet should be spending his lunch studying so his senior GPA is good enough to get him into college, but he can’t seem to focus thanks to his distracting artist. When he’s given the opportunity to tutor Simon in Trig and discovers Simon’s home-life nightmare, he wants nothing more than to get Simon out of danger. This need becomes more urgent when Simon comes to school the Monday after their first date with bruises, but it takes a broken leg before Jimmy can convince his boyfriend the Bennets really want him.
But the danger Simon thought was past shows up at the most unexpected time, and he must stand up to the fears he’s held so long to protect not only himself, but the man he wants to spend his life with.”
June 5th (UK)
Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton (Middle Grade – L)
Goodreads Summary: “Sometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…
Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?
Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.”
June 9th (USA)
The Rules of Ever After by Killian B. Brewer — (G)
Goodreads Summary: “The rules of royal life have governed the kingdoms of Clarameer for thousands of years, but Prince Phillip and Prince Daniel know that these rules don’t provide for the happily ever after they seek. A fateful, sleepless night on top of a pea set under twenty mattresses brings the two young men together and sends them on a quest out into the kingdoms.
On their travels, they encounter meddlesome fairies, an ambitious stepmother, disgruntled princesses and vengeful kings as they learn about life, love, friendship, and family. Most of all, the two young men must learn to know themselves and how to write their own rules of ever after.
The Rules of Ever After is the debut novel from Duet Books, an imprint for Young Adult LGBTQ fiction from Interlude Press.”
June 11th (USA)
The History of Us by Nyrae Dawn — (G)
Goodreads Summary: “Sometimes it’s not about coming out, it’s about settling in.
Eighteen-year-old Bradley Collins came out a year ago and hasn’t looked back since. Who cares if he doesn’t know any other gay people? Bradley has friends and basketball—that’s all he needs. Even if that means always sitting on the sidelines when the guys go out looking for girls.
When cute film-boy TJ tries to flirt with Bradley while his friends are doing their thing, he freaks. Yeah, he’s gay, but he’s never had the opportunity to go out with a boy before. He’s never had to worry about how his friends will react to seeing him with a guy.
Bradley accompanies TJ on a road trip to film TJ’s senior project documentary. In each city they visit, they meet with people from different walks of life, and Bradley learns there’s a whole lot more to being honest about himself than just coming out. He still has to figure out who he really is, and learn to be okay with what he discovers.”
June 16th (USA)
Glittering Shadows (Dark Metropolis #2) by Jaclyn Dolamore — (book#1 featured L and A characters)
Goodreads Summary: “The revolution is here.
Bodies line the streets of Urobrun; a great pyre burns in Republic Square. The rebels grow anxious behind closed doors while Marlis watches as the politicians search for answers—and excuses—inside the Chancellery.
Thea, Freddy, Nan, and Sigi are caught in the crossfire, taking refuge with a vibrant, young revolutionary and a mysterious healer from Irminau. As the battle lines are drawn, a greater threat casts a dark shadow over the land. Magic might be lost—forever.
This action-packed sequel to Dark Metropolis weaves political intrigue, haunting magic, and heartbreaking romance into an unforgettable narrative. Dolamore’s lyrical writing and masterfully crafted plot deliver a powerful conclusion.”
June 18th (USA)
Noble Persuasion (The Halvarian Ruin Books #2) by Sara Gaines — (L)
Goodreads Summary: “Aleana Melora, now a duchess in name only, sought refuge after fleeing the kingdom she once called home. Unwilling to admit defeat, Aleana jumps at the opportunity to learn what is happening in her lands when a mysterious letter arrives summoning her to a nearby fortress.
After discovering she is not the only one who has suffered, Aleana is given the chance to aid her people more than she imagined. But doing so means she must meet the demands of those she would align herself with. This decision has far-reaching consequences for both her people and her relationship with Kahira, the marked criminal who holds Aleana’s affections, as she’s faced with a line she hoped never to cross.”
June 23th (USA)
The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek by Seth Rudetsky — (G)
Goodreads Summary: “Broadway, New York. The shows, the neon lights . . . the cute chorus boys! It’s where Justin has always wanted to be–and now, with a winter internship for a famous actor, he finally has his chance to shine. If only he could ditch his kind, virtuous, upright, and–dare he say it?—uptightboyfriend, Spencer. But once the internship begins, Justin has more to worry about than a cramped single-guy-in-the-city style. Instead of having his moment in the spotlight, he’s a not-so-glorified errand boy. Plus, Spencer is hanging out with a celebra-hottie, Justin’s best friend Becky isn’t speaking to him, and his famous actor boss seems headed for flopdom. Justin’s tap-dancing as fast as he can, but all his wit and sass might not be enough to switch his time in New York from nightmare-terrible to dream-come-true terrific.
Seth Rudetsky’s second YA novel is endearingly human, laugh-out-loud funny, and for any kid who’s ever aspired to Broadway but can only sneak in through the stage door. ”
June 30th (USA)
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler — (B, L)
Goodreads Summary: “Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls…opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.
Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved…and the person she never imagined she could.”
If we missed your book for this month or you know of new LGBTQAI+ titles releasing for the followings months feel free
to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @thegayYA with the info!
Remember that you can find the 4 hidden letters in this post (it will be in green), and you’ll be one step closer to solving our anagram and having a chance to win a FABULOUS box of books.
But first, let’s find out what Pukawiss The Outcast is about…
“When family complications take Joshua away from his fundamentalist Christian mother and leave him with his grandfather, he finds himself immersed in a mysterious and magical world. Joshua’s grandfather is a Wisconsin Ojibwe Indian who, along with an array of quirky characters, runs a recreated sixteenth-century village for the tourists who visit the reservation. Joshua’s mother kept him from his Ojibwe heritage, so living on the reservation is liberating for him. The more he learns about Ojibwe traditions, the more he feels at home.
One Ojibwe legend in particular captivates him. Pukawiss was a powerful manitou known for introducing dance to his people, and his nontraditional lifestyle inspires Joshua to embrace both his burgeoning sexuality and his status as an outcast. Ultimately, Joshua summons the courage necessary to reject his strict upbringing and to accept the mysterious path set before him.”
For more info, visit the author’s website here.
And now fellow dragons, the awaited excerpt…
JOSHUA RODE shirtless on his skateboard up the sidewalk to his dilapidated home in Eagle River, Wisconsin. He was covered in sweat, but he felt surprisingly invigorated. It was a cool eighty-five degrees out, and Joshua had been skateboarding with his friends at the local park for most of the day. He had only been out of school on summer break for one week, but already it felt to Joshua like it had been a whole summer. Joshua was skilled at enjoying every moment of his free time.
As he approached his front door, Joshua noticed the porch light to his house was off, although the lights in his living room were on. He thought that was odd, as his father always turned the outside light on at 7:30 p.m., even though it didn’t get dark till after 9:00 p.m. One could set a clock by his father’s obsessive adherence to routine.
Joshua peeped through the door window and saw his mother in the living room watching television. She was uncharacteristically quiet. Joshua’s mother was not the type to watch TV peacefully. She was the kind who commented loudly on everything that was happening, typically in a morally judgmental tone. It got to the point that Joshua didn’t like to watch TV with his family anymore. He spent his time at night in his bedroom reading, while playing music to mask his mother’s relentless moaning.
But now his mother was just sitting there on the couch, as quiet as a mouse. Joshua reasoned that his father simply wasn’t feeling well and had gone to bed early. That would explain the lights being on and his mother’s apparent calmness.
It wasn’t unusual for Joshua’s father to get sick. He drank all the time. Joshua could scarcely remember a time in his life when his father didn’t have a beer in his hand. No one used the word “alcoholic” in Joshua’s home to describe his father’s habit. To Joshua, an alcoholic was someone who drank themselves into a stupor, lost all inhibitions, and then beat their subordinate family members violently. Joshua knew families like that. It was all too common in the poor neighborhood he lived in. But Joshua’s father had never beaten him or his mother. And neither ever felt subordinate to him. Joshua viewed him as a good man—if somewhat flawed. In his relatively few moments of sobriety, Joshua’s father always tried to spend some real quality time with Joshua. He even treated Joshua as an equal, as though they were friends.
If Joshua’s relationship with his father was that of equals, things were quite different with his mother. She was the dominant one in their family. She made all the decisions, and she ended all the arguments. Joshua’s father rarely argued with his mother. It was pointless. His father always backed down and let Joshua’s mother have her way. It wasn’t as though his father agreed with his mother on everything—or even on anything. It was more like his father no longer had any fight left in him. He was broken and dispirited and no longer cared. And so he drank.
Joshua realized he would need a really good excuse for coming home so late. His mother didn’t like him to be out after 7:00 p.m., even in the summer with no school. Joshua had forgotten to take his watch with him when he left that morning, so he didn’t know the actual time. But it was clearly past 7:00 p.m., as the sun was low in the western sky. Joshua had disobeyed his mother, and there would be consequences. There were always consequences.
Joshua could handle punishment, whether it be grounding or extra chores for a week or so. But he would also have to sit and listen to one of his mother’s endless sermons first. Those he couldn’t handle. They were the worst. She could break the darkest, most malevolent of souls with her sermons—not because she was morally right, but because she was unrelenting. Just when you thought she was done with her tirade, she’d hit you with a prolonged diatribe, wrapped in a sermon, and topped off with a tedious dose of scripture.
Joshua finally opened the screen door to his house and looked cautiously over to his mother. She didn’t look back. She had to have heard him enter, Joshua realized, as the door creaked loudly. It always did. But still, there was no reaction from his mother.
“Mom?” Joshua muttered as his mother sat on the couch watching TV.
I’m such an idiot, he thought. She hadn’t heard him come in. He could have made it to his room—to his safety zone—bypassing a nightly sermon, but instead Joshua had to call out to her. What were you thinking? he scolded himself. But Joshua had to say something to his mother. Everything just seemed wrong somehow, and he wanted to know what was up.
“Mother?” Joshua called again. This time the scolding voice in his head stayed quiet, agreeing that something was wrong. She should have responded the first time, but she didn’t.
“Oh, Joshua, sweetheart, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said gently to her son.
“Sweetheart?” Joshua repeated quietly to himself. Now he knew something was wrong. He had violated his mother’s rules, and she hadn’t even noticed. And to top it all off, she was being nice to him. This was a true rarity. Something was definitely wrong, Joshua realized.
“They’re talking about President Clinton on TV. You should sit down with me and watch,” she said.
To anyone else, it would have sounded like an invitation. But Joshua knew there was no such thing from his mother. It was a command. Joshua didn’t mind, though. He enjoyed the slight return to normalcy. Whenever President Clinton was on the news, Joshua’s mother made him watch. It wasn’t because she wanted her son to be informed. She didn’t seem to care herself about being informed. She just liked to complain about life. And politics was always the best excuse to do that.
Joshua’s mother had been having a field day with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that so dominated the news lately. She always tuned in to get the latest on “that pervert of a president,” as she called this particular head of state. Joshua’s mother ate it all up. It was sustenance for her soul. She could live on all the hatred.
Joshua sat down obediently on the chair next to the couch where his mother sat. Everyone had their own place in this house. Joshua got the beat-up old chair with torn cushions. His father always sat on the uncomfortable hard wood rocking chair. And his mother always got the entire couch to herself. If you could determine a family power structure by where one sat, then it was obvious who was in charge in this household.
“Today, President Bill Clinton issued a surprising proclamation,” the news anchor reported.
“Oh God!” Joshua’s mother screamed. “Nobody is watching the news to learn about some stupid proclamation!” she yelled impatiently at the TV, obviously wanting to hear more about the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Now that was the mother Joshua knew. She was back to her droning commentary now that she had an audience. Things were normal after all, he decided.
“The proclamation declares the month of June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month,” the news anchor said. The program broke to a clip of President Clinton speaking. “We cannot achieve true tolerance merely through legislation; we must change hearts and minds as well. Our greatest hope for a just society is to teach our children to respect one another, to appreciate our differences, and to recognize the fundamental values that we hold in common.” The camera came back to the news anchor, who seemed increasingly uncomfortable with the story. He looked to the camera and sped up his narration, hoping to get that particular segment over with. “‘Diversity is a gift,’ President Clinton said as he concluded his speech.”
“What!” Joshua’s mother screamed at the television, suddenly taking an interest in the proclamation. “There is no end to this man’s perversion!” she shouted.
Joshua found himself surprisingly interested in the news as well. Joshua’s mother had never lectured her son on the evils of homosexuality before, but she didn’t have to. Joshua knew exactly where she stood on the issue, as she frequently dismissed President Clinton as that “gay president.” His mother always went ballistic whenever President Clinton said “gay” or “lesbian” in an inclusive way during his televised speeches. The message from his mother was clear. “Gays are bad. Bill Clinton is evil.”
“President Clinton’s critics view this like his executive order last year banning discrimination in federal employment, seeing it as a run around the Republican-led Congress,” the news anchor elaborated.
“So, President Pervert thinks he’s a dictator now,” his mother mumbled.
Joshua was getting very uncomfortable with his mother’s commentary. He was used to ignoring her whenever she forced him to watch the news. But as he was getting older, Joshua increasingly realized he had some major disagreements with his mother regarding political issues. He didn’t know anything about budgets, social security, and Bosnia, or even really important things like the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but he knew something about gay people. He could never tell his mother why he knew about gay people, though. So Joshua just sat there silently as his mother trashed President Clinton. By extension, she was trashing her own son as well, albeit unknowingly.
“This isn’t the first time President Clinton has been criticized for his advocacy of gay rights,” the news anchor stated. “His controversial presidency started off when he tried to lift the ban on gays serving in the military. A conservative backlash forced him to sign the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell compromise and later the Defense of Marriage Act. With this proclamation, the president seems to be returning to his roots.”
Joshua’s mother angrily got up and shut off the television. “Can you believe that guy?” she asked rhetorically. She wasn’t expecting an answer. And she never got one from Joshua. He knew better than to answer her rhetorical questions. But this time was different.
“Maybe it’s the whole Constitution thing,” Joshua said quietly, but with an argument in his voice. “You know?” he continued. “All men are created equal.”
Anyone listening to the conversation would not have picked up on the sarcasm in Joshua’s voice. He was skilled at hiding it. It’s what allowed him to survive his mother’s numerous tirades with some dignity still intact. But his mother seemed to detect it this time. Perhaps I overdid it, Joshua thought.
“What did you say to me?” she asked, as if not believing her ears.
“Nothing, Mother,” Joshua said with another hint of sarcasm. “He’s such a pervert,” he added, unsure whether or not the sarcasm was still showing.
Joshua’s mother had a look of horror on her face, as though her son had been possessed by some kind of demon. The rage seemed to build up in her like a volcano just prior to an eruption. This was going to be some sermon, Joshua realized. He had only one option—change the subject and hope it worked. Next to subtle sarcasm, changing the subject was his second greatest skill.
“Let me tell you something about queers,” his mother said as she began her sermon.
“Mom, where’s Dad?” Joshua interrupted, sounding genuinely concerned. He really was concerned about his father, despite the fact that his question was meant as a diversion.
The impending volcano suddenly fell silent. A look of sadness, even pity, overcame Joshua’s mother. He had never seen that expression on her before. He didn’t know how to interpret it. He just knew that something was very wrong.
“Mom, is something the matter with Dad?” he asked, concerned.
“We need to talk,” his mother finally responded, breaking the awkward silence. “There are going to be some—” She paused to find the right words before finishing. “—changes.”
“Changes? What do you mean?” Joshua asked. “What happened to Dad!”
“Your father left us,” she said. “He won’t be living here anymore.”
Joshua couldn’t believe it, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t much of a surprise. All his mother and father ever did was argue. Or rather, his mom yelled at his dad, while his dad sat there and listened. Yet that’s the way it had always been. It was normal. Joshua was used to it, and now that was going to end. It was too much. Apparently it was too much for his father as well.
“Where is he? Did he leave a message for me?”
Joshua’s mother ignored his questions. She seemed lost in thought.
“Mom, where is—”
“Joshua, you’re moving,” his mother said, interrupting him.
This was too much for Joshua. His life had completely transformed in just a little over thirty seconds. His father was gone, and now they were moving.
“What? Moving? Mom, I don’t understand. Where are we going?”
“No, Joshua, not ‘we.’ You.”
“You mean I’m going to live with Dad?” he asked, confused.
“No, you’re moving to the reservation. You’re going to live with your grandfather.”
Grandfather? It was a word Joshua had forgotten. He barely remembered his grandfather. Some of his earliest and best memories were on the reservation in northern Wisconsin. But those memories seemed like a distant dream. Joshua hadn’t seen his grandfather in years. There had been a “falling out,” as his mother liked to put it. He had never gotten a better explanation than that. And now he was being told that he was going to be living with this man he could barely remember—the father of his father, who had just left him.
“Can I bring my skateboard?” Joshua asked. He knew it was a dumb question and probably even an insensitive one. But if his life was going to change, he wanted to hang on to something familiar—an object, a routine, anything. As long as he had his skateboard, things would be fine.
“No!” his mother said, obviously not in the mood for insensitivity. “Now start packing.”
“What a great way to turn fourteen,” Joshua grumbled.
If you liked the sound of that you can win a copy of Pukawiss The Outcast in GayYA’s Queer YA Scrabble prize pack! Just find all the letters hidden in our #QueerYa posts (here’s the previous one, remember that the letters will be in green) and unscramble them to solve the anagram! Enter to win here.
The giveaway closes on June 8th, and winners will be notified on the 9th. The giveaway is open to the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, and anywhere in continental Europe except Russia. Unfortunately, do to the prohibitive cost of shipping, the giveaway and auctions are not open to countries in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia.
Continuing with Queer YA Scrabble, today we have the pleasure of bringing you an interview with author Suzanne van Rooyen. Find letter hidden in this post (it will be in green), and you’ll be one step closer to solving our anagram and having a chance to win a FABULOUS box of books.
Suzanne van Rooyen is an author from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego.
Nadia: Hello Suzanne! We are glad to have you back on the blog, thank you for joining us again! For the new readers out there, could you tell us a bit of yourself?
Suzanne: Thank you so much for having me! It’s such an honour to be back.
I’m a tattooed story-teller from South Africa and the author of The Other Me and I Heart Robot, two very different YA novels, but both feature LGBT+ characters. I’m now living in Sweden where I teach music by day and write by night, or lunch break, or in any spare moment I can get! When not teaching or writing, you’ll find me wall climbing or jogging through the beautiful Viking cultural preserve I live on with my shiba, Lego.
N: You shared a blog post with us a few years ago about Diversity in YA, looking at what’s hitting the shelves today, do you think things have changed? If so how? And what are your hopes for the future?
S: Oh indeed! The publishing industry has seen some major changes for the better when it comes to diversity. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks social media campaign has drawn attention to diverse titles – not only books featuring LGBT+ characters – and continues to make waves across the world, uniting authors who are diverse and write diverse and reaching new readers who are crying out for books in which they can see themselves, be they LGBT+, people of colour, people with disabilities etc. It’s an exciting time in publishing because many agents and editors have embraced this push for diversity and are now seeking more than just ‘issue’ books. Twitter events like #PitMad and #MSWL have shown just how many writers are writing diverse and just how many agents and editors want those titles. It’s lovely to see. I think it also helps that celebrities like Laverne Cox and now Caitlyn Jenner have so bravely made their stories public, helping to educate people and pave the way for greater acceptance and understanding for those who are different. That’s why diversity in YA has always been so important, to show teens in particular that they are not alone. Not that the struggle is over… We can definitely still do better. I’m still holding out for the trans equivalent of Katniss Everdeen to take the spotlight, but the difference is I now believe that can and will happen. It’s no longer a pipe dream but rather just a matter of time before we see that level of popularity for a character who comes from a previously marginalized group.
N: How important is diversity in your writing?
S: What’s most important in my writing is authenticity. The world is diverse with a multitude of races, gender identities, sexualities, religious identities, neurologies, physical capabilities… to write authentically I have to be aware of real world diversity and include characters in an authentic and and holistic way in my stories even if that means writing outside my immediate experience. It takes courage on the author’s behalf to do that and a heck of a lot of effort to do well, but for me it’s not an option not to write that way.
N: What would you say is your favorite thing about writing?
S: The creative freedom. Getting to create a world and character from scratch, and then getting to live vicariously through my characters. Writing is also a catharsis – as cliche as that might seem – it’s a cliche because it’s true, and I sometimes really need to escape from reality for a while or take my real life frustrations out on fictional characters.
N: What can we expect from your future books? Are you working on something new right now?
S: I’m currently working on an African inspired YA fantasy novel featuring a very diverse cast of characters. It’s been an absolutely ball to write, taking me back to the African folk tales I grew up on as a kid. I’m also about to start edits on my new adult novel, Scardust. Scardust, my NA debut, is a gay sci-fi romance and will be published next year by Entangled. I’m super excited about this book. It took me more than two years to write and is probably the darkest book I’ve written yet
N: And last but not least, what are some of your favorite LGBTQAI+ YA titles?
S: Coda by Emma Trevayne is always first on my list, followed by Proxy by Alex London, Made of Stars by Kelley York, An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale, and The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
I’m definitely adding The Other Me to my TBR. You can win a copy in GayYA’s Queer YA Scrabble prize pack! Just find all the letters hidden in the next four posts (the letters will be in green) and unscramble them to solve the anagram! Enter to win here.
The giveaway closes on June 8th, and winners will be notified on the 9th. The giveaway is open to the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, and anywhere in continental Europe except Russia. Unfortunately, do to the prohibitive cost of shipping, the giveaway and auctions are not open to countries in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia.
We had a great day of Queer YA Scrabble yesterday… today we’re thrilled to bring you a special giveaway of a SIGNED copy of Undone by Cat Clarke! You do not need the solved anagram to enter this giveaway… this post is however one of the seven that contains a hidden letter! Find letter hidden in this post (it will be in green), and you’ll be one step closer to solving our anagram and having a chance to win a FABULOUS box of books.
Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she’s learning to live with it. Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online … and he kills himself.
Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down.
A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author.
The giveaway is open to the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, and anywhere in continental Europe except Russia. Unfortunately, do to the prohibitive cost of shipping, the giveaway and auctions are not open to countries in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia.
You can win a copy of another book by Cat Clarke, A Kiss in the Dark, in GayYA’s Queer YA Scrabble Prize Pack! Just find all the letters hidden in this weekend’s posts (the letters will be in green) and unscramble them to solve the anagram! Enter to win here.
The giveaway is open to the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, and anywhere in continental Europe except Russia. Unfortunately, do to the prohibitive cost of shipping, the giveaway and auctions are not open to countries in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia.