by Danny M. Cohen
Early on in my debut novel, Train, teenagers Alexander and Marko make their way through the midnight shadows of Berlin to The Fountain of Fairy Tales in Friedrichshain Park. Statues of Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel, Gretel, and other familiar storybook characters surround the fountain and watch the teenage boys share a kiss. But this is no fairy tale. This is 1943 Germany and the Nazi machinery of deportation and mass-murder is ongoing.
In writing Train, I wanted to tell the hidden stories of Hitler’s often forgotten victims—the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, political enemies of the regime. And I wanted to write a compelling story that would underscore how the policies and deliberate actions of the Nazi government shattered real lives.
Through the writing process, the story became a fast-paced thriller about love, rescue, and desperation. I found that I had to fight against the temptation to romanticize that history. I had to ensure not only historical accuracy but also historical authenticity. Because in war, and in the face of genocide, there are rarely happy endings.
A problem of mainstream Holocaust literature (and mainstream Holocaust film) is the trend to provide hopeful endings and tidy lessons. When we tell stories about already marginalized people—whether they are gay or disabled or Jewish or Roma—there’s a tendency to resort to simple, optimistic messages. Good against evil. The triumph of the oppressed. After all, don’t we need strong, resilient role models who can show us how to endure victimization and survive against all odds?
But history often tells a different tale. There are countless stories of suffering that died alongside the victims of atrocity. Too many stories—too many lives—ended before their time. Yet, although hidden, unhappy endings are woven into the foundations that hold up our rights today. Even devastating stories can give us collective and individual strength.
I was faced with a challenge. How could I engage my readers—and perhaps even empower them—while being brutally honest?
The answer, I think, may lie in what could have been.
We sometimes forget that, before the rise of Nazism, 1920s Germany was somewhat of a haven for same-sex love and sexual freedom. Women and men flocked to Berlin’s gay bars and cafés. German scientists argued in support of understanding homosexuality as natural. Activists collected signatures for petitions to overturn homophobic laws.
But when those bars and cafés were closed down, when the Nazis threw that groundbreaking research onto their bonfires, when Hitler’s government used those petitions to hunt and imprison homosexuals, a thriving community and progressive culture were destroyed.
Yet, throughout the Nazi era, women and women, and men and men, and girls and girls, and boys and boys continued—in secret—to fall in love, to dream, to plan their lives together. Some lesbians and gay men hid their identities by marrying one another. Some went into hiding. Some tried to escape Nazi-occupied Europe.
Hiding from Nazi soldiers, on a mattress in an abandoned wine cellar, Alexander and Marko review their plan to escape to London. They’ll find Alexander’s family. They’ll get a place of their own. Eventually, Alexander will study cartography. Marko will train as an engineer. In a few hours, they’ll have their false papers and train tickets out of Hitler’s capital. Before their attempt to escape begins to unravel, there is the hope and a real possibility of that sweet ending—one that we all wish for ourselves.
Do we need fairy tale endings? Yes, of course, but only when history allows.
Danny M. Cohen is a writer of human rights fiction. He’s also a learning scientist, education designer, and Holocaust scholar at Northwestern University. His debut novel, Train – a young adult thriller inspired by hidden history – is published in partnership with Unsilence Project. Born and raised in London, Danny now lives in Chicago with his husband and their daughter. Read more about his work here: www.dannymcohen.com and follow him on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/dannymauricecohen
Check out our interview with Danny, here!
Today we are talking with author Danny M. Cohen about his debut novel, TRAIN, which comes out today! Happy release day Danny!
About the book:
TRAIN is a YA historical thriller with a particular focus on the Nazis’ persecution of homosexuals. This novel is self-published in partnership with Unsilence Project.
“This thriller gives voice to the unheard victims of Nazism — the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, intermarried Jews, and political enemies of the regime.” (via Danny Cohen’s website)
Over ten days in 1943 Berlin, six teenagers witness and try to escape the Nazi round-ups of Jews and Roma. Giving voice to the unheard victims of Nazism — the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, intermarried Jews, and political enemies of the Nazi regime — this historical thriller will change how we think about Holocaust history.
Marko screwed up. But he’s good at swallowing his fear.
By now, the 17-year-old ‘Gypsy’ should be far from Nazi Germany. By now, he should be with Alex. That’s how they planned it. But while Marko has managed to escape the Gestapo, Alex has been arrested in the final round-ups of Berlin’s Jews. Even worse, Marko’s little cousin Kizzy is missing. And Marko knows he’s to blame.
Yet the tides of war are turning. With hundreds of Christian women gathered in the streets to protest the round-ups, the Nazis have suspended the trains to the camps. But for how long? Marko must act now. Against time, and with British warplanes bombing Berlin, Marko hatches a dangerous plan to rescue Alex and find Kizzy.
There are three people who can help: Marko’s sister with her connections to the Resistance, Alex’s Catholic stepsister, and a mysterious Nazi girl with a deadly secret.
Nadia: Today is your release day! Happy pub-day! What does it feel like? Anything cool you are doing to celebrate today?
Danny: First of all, it’s an honor to be interviewed by GayYA.
I’m so excited this day is here. I’m nervous, too, of course, but mostly because so many people care so deeply about what my novel, Train, represents. Train is about real, hidden histories of the Holocaust that I hope will start some amazing and surprising conversations.
But celebrations will have to wait. Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day—it’s exactly 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. Tonight, I’ll be giving a public talk in Chicago on the question, What Is The Future of Holocaust Education?
N: Without being spoilery, what can you share about your debut TRAIN and its characters? Why should people give it a try?
D: At the heart of Train is a gay romance and two rescue stories inspired by real Holocaust survivor testimonies—the kinds of stories we rarely hear.
Marko, a seventeen-year-old ‘Gypsy,’ is keeping a dangerous secret. And he’s frightened—but not for himself. His best friend, Alexander, has just been arrested by the Gestapo in the final round-ups of Berlin’s Jews, and Marko has a plan to save him. At the same time, Marko’s sister, Tsura, is determined to travel to a Nazi camp for Roma on the edge of the city, to find their mother and aunt. But when their little cousin, Kizzy, goes missing, Marko and Tsura’s plans begin to fall apart. The characters draw us into questions about courage and hope and fear and fighting for the people we love.
N: What would you say was the best thing (or your favorite) about writing TRAIN?
D: I loved making sure that every event in Train—down to the minute—was historically accurate. I knew where the story needed to go, but my research (with advice from some brilliant Holocaust historians) dictated each plot twist and the book’s most incredible and haunting moments.
For example, when I was reading testimonies and historical reports about Marzahn, a Nazi camp for Roma on the edge of Berlin, I realized I’d unintentionally set a pivotal scene of the story during an Allied bombing raid on the city. So I had to rewrite that scene. Amazingly, the inclusion of the air raid changed the direction of the story and brought Train closer to historical truth.
N: I recently learned you work as a designer of Holocaust education. What does your work entail?
D: Being a Holocaust educator means I get to be a storyteller every day. Holocaust history can be entirely overwhelming, but we can make it accessible and relevant if we focus on the stories of individuals. Then, we need to connect those individual stories with other stories. One story plus another story plus another story, until we begin to have a sense of the big picture.
I have the honor of training educators to lead tours of Holocaust museums. I work with teachers. I work with communities. I help educators think about the appropriate (and avoid inappropriate) ways of engaging teenagers in urgent questions about human rights and our collective responsibilities to take action against atrocities around the world today.
N: You founded a non-profit dedicated to teaching and human rights, the “Unsilence Project.” It sounds like incredible work, what can you tell us about the project?
D: We break open taboos. Many educators have a hard time talking about certain issues and histories with young people. Unsilence Project creates free story-driven educational programs—and offers educator training—to engage young people in conversations about transgender rights, sexual violence, and other topics we struggle to talk about.
Train is the central text of Unsilence Project’s inaugural educational program, Overlapping Triangles, which we’ll be rolling out across the U.S.—as well as overseas—over the next year or so.
N: How difficult is it to talk to people about this subject? I remember being in high school, and finding out there are people out there who actually deny the existence of the Holocaust. Have you encountered this kind of trouble before?
D: The first Holocaust deniers were the Nazis themselves. When they realized they would lose the war, they started to burn evidence of their crimes. But there was too much evidence to destroy. If a student says to me, “My friend’s Mom says the Holocaust never happened,” I reply, “Look at all the photographs, watch the testimonies, read as much as you can, and then decide for yourself.”
As for the challenge of engaging people in the history: Some people can’t stomach the details of Holocaust history at all. Many people suffer from nightmares after reading too much about the Nazis’ camps and careful methods of murder. Train isn’t a light read. The story is dark. But it reflects the realities of human history. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to look.
N: Do you think teaching has influenced the way you write? If so, how?
D: I actually think it’s the other way around. How I write has changed how I teach. Every class I create starts with a hook, a compelling question, or even a surprising activity. From the start of any lesson, I have to keep the students on the edges of their seats. I have to keep them asking, “What will happen next?” And every class has to end on a cliffhanger that makes them excited to come to the next session. I know I’m doing a great job when the students can’t stop asking questions. And sometimes I have to stop myself from giving away spoilers. “Good question,” I’ll say. “But you’ll have to wait until next week before we answer it.”
N: When I read the summary for your book I was fascinated! The phrase “the unheard victims of Nazism” particularly struck me. What made you write about these unheard voices in particular? And since you could have easily written an adult book about this, why did you decide to make it YA?
D: For many decades, so many people and institutions—including the Polish government, some German politicians, some conservative Christians, and some ultra-Orthodox Jews—have opposed the recognition of homosexuals as victims of Nazism.
The Roma and Sinti—who were rounded up across Europe and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators—as well as people with disabilities—faced many of the same barriers: denial of reparations, denial of victimhood, denial of dignity and commemoration. I trained as an education designer and I chose to dedicate my work to the unsilencing of these hidden histories.
I didn’t set out to write a novel. But over time, it became obvious that writing a page-turner for teenagers would be the most effective way of changing our collective memories. If thousands of middle school and high school students read Train, then these stories—of homosexuals, of Roma, of people with disabilities—alongside Jewish stories of the Holocaust, will be known by the next generation.
What’s great news is that other scholars and educators are so supportive of my work. For example, I’m working closely with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and, tomorrow, I’ll be running an all-day training for sixty Chicago teachers on how to teach Train and its hidden histories. And this is just the beginning.
N: TRAIN is your debut novel. But according to my research, you are not a first time writer. What can you tell us about your other work?
D: Last month, my choose-your-own-pathway mystery, The 19th Window, was launched. You can try to solve the mystery here.
I’ve always been a writer. Since I was in primary school in the UK, I wanted to be an author of fiction. I remember handing in a 50-page fantasy story about a kick-ass teenage girl battling a wicked sorcerer!
For years, I’ve been writing accessible non-fiction—mostly for history and education design journals—about the design of Holocaust and genocide education. I’ll continue to write for academic publications, but I’m starting to find my voice through human rights fiction for young adults, and it’s exhilarating.
N: What’s next on your horizon? Do you think you’ll write more LGBTQIA+ YA in the future?
D: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I’m working on my second novel—Hide Or Speak, a contemporary YA human rights thriller that has some brilliant queer protagonists.
In the middle of a U.S. election, the daughter of a presidential nominee goes missing, and the media and the public become caught up in a global treasure hunt to save her life. Behind the scenes, panic is overshadowed by a family secret that threatens to bring down the political campaign but could also change the lives of thousand of people across the world.
N: Thanks so much for talking the time to talk with us Mr. Cohen! And congrats on the new release!
D: Thank you and thanks for having me!
And there you have it folks! Doesn’t TRAIN sound fascinating? I for one can’t wait to pick my copy up and check the story out!
Check out Danny’s guest post here.
About the author:
Danny M. Cohen is a learning scientist, fiction writer, and education designer. Danny is also the founder of Unsilence Project.
An author of human rights fiction for young adults, his works include the new historical novel Train, the short story Dead Ends, the choose-your-own-pathway mystery The 19th Window, and the forthcoming contemporary thriller Hide Or Speak.
Born and raised in London, Danny lives in Chicago with his husband and their daughter.
Welcome to our first monthly call for guest bloggers! Each month we will put up a list of topics, prompt questions, or specific kinds of people we’re looking for submissions on/from.
For this first call, we want to hear from some teens, twenty-somethings, authors, agents, and editors. We’re interested in co-written posts as well, so if you want to grab a friend or colleague to write with you about one of these, that would be great! We’re also interested in interviews. Below are some prompt questions about specific things we’re really interested in hearing about. Your post can touch on multiple questions, but it doesn’t need to!
How to Submit a Guest Post: Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org You may use one of two formats:
1) Email us with a little bit about yourself, your topic idea, and a link to your blog/other writing sample (see note below). We will consider and get back to you based on the quality of your writing samples, if we think your take on the topic would be a good fit for our blog, and how many other submissions we get.
2) Email us the blog you would like to submit in its entirety. We will review the submission and get back to you within the week!
A couple notes:
Please be aware that we try to avoid repeating similar takes on identical topics. The more specific you can be, the more likely we are to accept your submission. Don’t hesitate to send in a few topics (no more than 5) and we’ll let you know which ones we can accept.
Please keep your post between 250 and 1,000 words. If it is over or under either of those numbers and you feel the length is necessary, include a line in your email explaining why.
If you are a teen or twenty-something interested in writing about one of these topics but don’t know if your writing will be “good enough” or don’t have a writing sample, PLEASE send in your idea anyways! We are happy to work with you to develop, edit, and polish your post.
How to Submit an Interview:
We’re open to interviews of you, and interviews that you would like to conduct with someone else. For both, you will have to come up with the questions.
If you would like to submit an interview please email us with a little bit about yourself, a link to your blog or social media, which type of interview you would like to do, and all of the interview questions (answers are not necessary). If you will be interviewing someone else, please get their agreement beforehand, and include information about them as well.
The deadline for submissions is the 30th of January. You should hear back from us within the first week of February!
(Also note that we’re always open for guest post submissions on any subject. See here for more details.)
Email me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
I look forward to reading your submissions!
Some prompt questions for subjects we’d like to hear about from TEENS (open to twenty-somethings as well):
- Are you a casual reader of queer YA, or are you very critical? Do you have a place where you review them?
- Do experiences in queer Young Adult novels reflect your own?
- What effect do queer YA novels have in your life?
- Do you read books with queer characters that identify differently than you?
- If you read a lot of queer YA, how do you do it? Library, bookstore, e-books… Do you ever feel like you have to hide what you’re reading?
- If you read fanfic, how do you think the representation matches up?
- Why is it important to have queer YA books?
- What was the first queer YA book you read?
- For older teens or twenty-somethings: As you grow further from being a young adult, have you stuck with queer YA, or moved more to NA or Adult? Why?
- What is the publishing world like right now for books with queer characters? It’s been awhile since we’ve heard of anything being ‘straightwashed’ but it doesn’t seem to be exactly in a completely accepting place yet.
- We’ve heard it said that publishers will only take a certain “type” of queer: no one who’s ace, aro, trans, bi, pan, intersex. OR, they aren’t allowed to have happy endings, or only coming out stories, etc.
- If you’re a self-pubbed author, or pubbed from a small press, do you think that makes a difference? Are you able to have more diverse types of queerness? If so, do you think it’s easier/harder to sell it? Additionally, do you ever find yourself editing queerness out because you think it won’t sell?
- We hear a lot from authors who are adamant about more representation for queer teens, especially ace, aro, nonbinary, trans, pan, intersex, and bi. But most of the ones who say this haven’t written anything like this. Why is that? Is it just that awareness has been raised so suddenly that they’re already wrapped up in other projects? Is there another reason? If so, how do you think we could change it?
- What kind of research do you do for queer characters? In particular, we’re wondering if you have gone to tumblr or other sites where queer people talk openly about their experiences, the things that drive them up the wall about how their identity is represented, how they’d like to be portrayed…etc. Though of course we’re interested in the other research that you do!
- Has your book received any criticism from LGBTQIA+ people? What do you do with it if you have?
- For authors who haven’t written any queer characters: is there a reason you haven’t written any? Do you plan to?
- Has something of yours ever been edited to near-ambiguity?
- How would you like to see the publishing industry change?
- How would GayYA be able to serve you better, as an author? What types of things could we do that we haven’t been doing? Or what things are we doing now that we should definitely continue with?
- Does your editing/acquiring process change when there are queer characters? Have you ever ‘edited out’ queerness?
- Do you do research on the identity the author is representing?
- Does the queerness impact who you try to sell it to?
- Do you think agents/editors/publishers only accept a certain “type” of queer?
- If you are queer yourself, do you think that affects how you look at manuscripts?
Dane Kuttler is a poet, activist and teacher.
Her poetry is often lyrical and narrative, exploring themes of Jewish and queer identities, with a lot of love poems to her grandparents. The most common format for her work is the exploration of a relationship between two people that connects to broader political and social themes.
Dane has featured in coffee shops, living rooms, libraries, back porches and the occasional auditorium, but her favorite venue has always been her first – a dilapidated tree house with sixteen stuffed animals for an audience.
Check our her website for more info.
The first gay YA I picked up, in early 2009, was David Levithan’s short story collection How They Met, and Other Stories, recommended to me by someone on tumblr. The first story in the collection, “Starbucks Boy”, radically changed the way I thought about myself. My interest in guys, to that point, had been mostly theoretical. I knew I liked them, theoretically and I knew there were some attractive ones at school with me, but only towards the end of 2008 did the idea of actually, you know, dating one of them start to seem even a little bit real, and not until I turned the last page of “Starbucks Boy” did it really hit me that this wasn’t just real for other people — it was something it wasn’t unreasonable for me to want for myself.
I devoured everything else I could find by David Levithan — the rest of How They Met, The Realm of Possibility, Boy Meets Boy, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List, even the disappointingly straight Are We There Yet?. I got my hands on a used copy of Am I Blue? the anthology of LGBTQ short fiction edited by Bruce Coville in the mid-90s (I owe my 10th grade English teacher thanks for having us read a few stories from it). Then I foundered, until the fall of 2010, as a college freshman, when a friend of mine and I decided to co-teach a class on LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction at MIT’s Splash program. As soon as I submitted the course description, I realized I couldn’t go into it with only one author under my belt, so I set out to find more. Since 2010, I’ve kept track of every new book I finished, and at the end of 2014, with five years of LGBTQ YA reading behind me, this seems a good time to look back on what I found.
Probably the most frustrating thing I’ve learned has been that not all LGBTQ YA is created equal. My early exposure to David Levithan gave me high expectations that not everything has been able to meet. This is both unfortunate, in that obviously I’d love it if all LGBTQ YA were as beautifully written as, say, Two Boys Kissing, and, I think, important for us to keep in mind as we talk about LGBTQ YA in general. In her article “The Politics of Translation”, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak notes that not all “Third World women’s writing” is automatically revolutionary (or even just plain good), even if it may appear so to Western eyes. By the same token, though we might wish otherwise, not all LGBTQ YA is automatically empowering or thought-provoking or even especially good. I’ve read some mediocre books these last few years, although the excellent books have (happily) outnumbered them.
First there are books like Lauren Myracle’s Shine. I think of these as “hate crime books”, books where LGBTQ characters are (at best) secondary, existing to teach the main characters a lesson in tolerance, or (at worst) dead. Shine was a powerful book in some ways (its treatment of the main narrator’s struggle as an abuse survivor), but as far as LGBTQ YA goes — count me out.
Then there are books that do a fair job representing one group while throwing another under the bus. The Difference Between You and Me’s (Madeleine George) handling of Emily’s sexuality comes to mind, as does I Am J’s (Chris Beam) main character, who (to my cis eyes) seems to be a sensitive portrayal of a trans guy, except that he uncritically adopts straight men’s misogyny and homophobia, which rather soured the book for me.
Finally, there are books that just…fall short, one way or another. Brian Sloane’s Tale of Two Summers ended up in this category, for me, by having the straight protagonist end the book in a happy relationship while the gay protagonist is left in the lurch. I’m done being the gay best friend.
For every book that disappointed me, though, there were many others that didn’t (two, Tom Lennon’s When Love Comes to Town and Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight, will have to wait for their own blog posts, but I thought I’d mention them here; two others, Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes series and Deborah Hautzig’s Hey, Dollface, I’ve already talked about). I’ve read some amazing books these last five years, books that six years ago I could barely imagine existing (even those that already existed): Ash (Malinda Lo — honestly, all of Malinda Lo’s books), Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz), Empress of the World (Sara Ryan), and others.
My reading has ranged from 1978 (Hey, Dollface, one of the earliest LGBTQ YA novels) up through 2014. Reading older books —even just from the early 2000s — has been eye-opening. On the one hand, a lot has changed, just in terms of what stories are being told. While non-straight characters (of variable representational value) have been appearing in genre fiction for decades, ten or fifteen years ago there wasn’t space in YA for a book like Ash or Witch Eyes or even the relatively incidental (but still very important) representation that shows up in Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades. There’s still space for the kinds of stories Geography Club (Brent Hartinger), Empress of the World, and Totally Joe (James Howe) tell — as long as there are young people questioning their sexualities and struggling to navigate the complexities of adolescence at the same time, these are stories that need to be told.
But there’s also, increasingly, room for other stories: stories like Adaptation and Inheritance (Malinda Lo), stories like The Summer Prince (Alaya Dawn Johnson), stories like Pantomime (Laura Lam) — books that are fundamentally different from the kind of stories we used to get. And we are richer for it: the more different kinds of books LGBTQ characters can exist in, the more of our stories can be told, and the more we’ll be able to see ourselves not as “themes” or “issues” but as people with valid, important, and (this is key) varied desires and experiences.
On that note, here’s to another five years of excellent LGBTQ YA.
Nathaniel Harrington was born and raised in suburbs of Boston, studied (comparative) literature in college, and is currently improving his Gaelic on the Isle of Skye. He has been writing gay YA since 2008 and reading it since 2009; someday he hopes to be able to share it with others in a format that isn’t half-finished NaNoWriMo first drafts and miscellaneous fragments. He enjoys working out the details of magic systems, doing citations for academic papers, reading in several languages (although he has yet to read any LGBTQ YA in a language other than English; suggestions are welcome), and obsessively categorizing books he reads on Goodreads.
Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.
Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.
Stranger stands on its own, but there will be three more books in the series: Hostage, Rebel, and Traitor. If you’d like to be alerted when new books in the series come out, please copy this to get on the mailing list: http://eepurl.com/Tzv25
In Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith we follow the lives of 5 teens:
- Ross, the main character, a prospector who escaped a bounty hunter and is in possession of a valuable but indecipherable book;
- Yuki, the would-be prince of Japan before his parents were killed and he was forced to flee, who is interested in one day becoming a prospector like Ross;
- Mia, the youngest town mechanic in history who welcomes Ross into her home;
- Jenny, the first Changed member of the City Guard; and
- Felicite, the daughter of the Mayor and Sheriff, who spends every possible moment in preparation to become the next generation’s Mayor.
There’s quite a lot of variety between these characters, and in Stranger they go through such a variety of experiences that something can be found for anyone to relate to.
Within these five protagonists is Yuki: would-be prince, and hopeful adventurer. Though not the main character, Yuki is the one character you’ve probably heard of in the buzz around this novel. Several years ago Stranger was allegedly refused by an agent– unless the authors made Yuki straight. Thankfully, the authors stuck with their vision.
I went into this book expecting Yuki’s arc to be the only thing I read it for. I was worried that the rest of the book would fall flat, and would rely too heavily on having A Gay Character or that Yuki would be Gay-with-a-capital-G. Much to my delight Stranger was very engaging, and Yuki’s gayness affected him only in that his love interest was a guy—which, in a world where there is no queerphobia, should be the case.
While some people are suspicious and wary when Ross arrives half dead near the gates, many town members such as Mia and Jennie welcome him in. A solitary treasure-hunter, called a “prospector,” he learns what being part of a community can mean. He struggles with PTSD, and finds it hard to acclimate to this new way of living after being used to the open sky. He begins going to school, gaining especially the skill to read. As the story unfolds we get more and more tidbits from Ross’ past. Romance also unfolds, in an interesting way.
But that’s not all… a violent ruler, Voske, rules close by this frontier town of 1,000 people. He is always trying to expand his rule and stomp out those who refuse it. The combination of that threat, the natural dangers of this supernatural desert, and the need to figure out what’s in the book that Ross has that made Voske send a bounty hunter after him, keeps the story moving.
But there’s also a lot of interpersonal interaction, character growth, and sweet, quiet moments throughout the story. The portrayal of PTSD was so good, and so unlike anything I’ve read before that it made me cry just because of the accuracy of it, and the relief of having it represented.
Ross and Yuki have only a few interactions, and Yuki doesn’t have that many chapters. I found his romance resolved like way way too quickly, especially in contrast to the other romances in the book. I even admit that I can see where some of the editors were coming from, with their suggestions to cut his POV. Looking at his inclusion simply though a lens of making a cohesive story, it doesn’t make sense to have him in there. None of his chapters really further anything, and he’s not necessary to a lot of the action. That said, I think it was incredibly important to keep in, and I’m glad the authors stuck with their vision. As a queer teen, seeing myself represented in a world with no queerphobia like that, not just as a minor character, but one with an actual POV… that sort of meant everything. And if I’m guessing right, his story will become more central to the plot in future books.
One thing I found interesting about the book was how The Change functioned in society—though power systems or prejudices tied in with race, religion, and sexual orientation are no more, a new rift formed around the Changed vs. the Norms. It’s actually incredibly similar to X-Men. It stuck out to me a lot though, because even though most Dystopian novels have something similar to this, the characters are also white, cis, and straight. So it was interesting to see this thing that is typically seen as an allegory for oppressed peoples to be used in a context with people who were once oppressed themselves. Especially because there’s this added layer of the fact that many of them do have power greater than that of the Norms… and augh, *happy squeaking* I feel like I could have an hours long conversation about this.
In the first few chapters, Mia seemed to be describing herself somewhere on the ace and aro spectrums. I knew to keep my hopes low, however, because there’s so many cases of characters who are aro-ace-coded until the one comes along. Unfortunately, that happened once again. That said, the issues are still touched on, and while it’s clear that Mia has some internalized ace/arophobia, it seems the rest of the world is pretty chill with people who don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction. Also I can forgive it a little bit because 1) Mia can still be demisexual/romantic and SORTA SPOILERS
2) there is a really interesting exploration of polyamory. Unfortunately, neither of those things make up with a character feeling “broken” when she doesn’t experience the same things as her friends, and then “ohhh this is what it feels like!” when she does experience it. That doesn’t sit right.
Lastly, I would have loved to see representation of trans and intersex people– I have my fingers crossed that the authors will explore this in the future books in this series. There is a growing number of YA speculative books that look at how sexuality will be viewed in the future, but none so far (that I know of) that look at the spectrums of gender and sex.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Stranger—definitely definitely pick this one up, especially those looking for intersectionally diverse speculative YA. The characters were lovable and had compelling stories, the action was fast and intense, and yet it slowed down enough to give the characters some tender personal moments. Sexuality, gender, race and religion are accepted in a completely refreshing way.
Stranger is the first book in The Change Series, I am very, very excited to read the next one when it comes out! I’ve been looking for a good new YA series that includes major queer characters, and this looks like it could be the one!
Vee Signorelli is a passionate feminist who spends their time writing, reading, hunting through queer book tags on tumblr, and keeping up with school. Huge fan of actual representation in books and TV shows, lover of theatre, cultural studies, mythology, and science. Vee is the admin and co-founder of GayYA.org. Find them on Twitter, Goodreads, or Tumblr.
JANUARY 1ST (UK)
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson — (TRANS)
Goodreads Summary: “Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.
When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…”
JANUARY 2ND (USA)
Recipe for Magic by Agatha Bird — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: Connor Roth is a fire mage who’s going places. He’s powerful, popular, and he has a plan. But his plan for fame and glory is disrupted when the Oracle sticks him with Landyn Glendower for Senior Trial. This is an act unprecedented in their school’s history. Landyn is a water mage, and everyone knows mages with opposing elements can’t work magic together.
Connor is left with a choice: work alone and fail or swallow his pride and work with Landyn to find a way to combine their magic in a display the Archmages will never forget—if they don’t get kicked out of school in the process.
JANUARY 4th (USA)
The Eldermaid by K. Henderson — (QUEER)
Goodreads Summary: Once, it is said, the Powers–the five deities who rule over Love, War, Knowledge, Nature, and Death–walked the land.
But now They are gone, entrusting the guardianship of the world to the many spirits that live in it. These spirits of flame and sea, of tree and metal and storm form bonds with chosen humans, strengthening humanity’s ties with the land.
In this world, bereft of the Powers that created it, a young girl bonds with a spirit of the elder tree. All is not right with the world, however; and it will be up to these two companions to survive an invisible war of conflicting ideologies in which politics, religion, love, and jealousy are major players.
JANUARY 6TH (USA)
Take Them By Storm (Angel Island #3) by Marie Landry — (LESBIAN)
Goodreads Summary: This book is a standalone companion novel to Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm.
Sadie Fitzgerald has always been different, and not just because she makes her own clothes and would rather stay home watching Doctor Who than party with kids her age. When it’s time to leave Angel Island for college, Sadie is eager to put her old life behind her. Small-minded people and rumors have plagued her for years, but with the love of her adoptive family, the O’Dells, Sadie has learned to embrace who she is. Now she’s not afraid to admit the rumors about her are true: she’s gay. For the first time in her life, Sadie feels free to be herself. She dives into college life and begins volunteering at the local LGBT center, where she discovers her small-town upbringing left holes in her education about life outside Angel Island.
The world is a bigger and more accepting place than Sadie ever imagined. She’s finally found where she belongs, but with the reappearance of someone from her past, an unexpected new friendship, and a chance at love, Sadie soon realizes she still has a lot to learn about life, friendship, and love.
JANUARY 6TH (USA)
Lunaside by J.L Douglas — (LESBIAN)
Goodreads Summary: Moira Connell just wants to drink tea, draw pictures, and hang out with Andrea, her girlfriend. But that’s before her mother accuses her of wanting to spend her time making out with girls, rather than planning which universities to court in senior year.
A job as an art counselor at Lunaside, the summer camp down the road from Moira’s house, is supposed to help Moira prove she isn’t procrastinating, and that she isn’t ‘girl-crazy’ either. Then the eccentric owner of Lunaside ropes her into starring in the camp’s new web series before she can say ‘on-screen panic attack.’ But it’s exactly the kind of huge responsibility Moira’s mother thinks Moira is allergic to, so she jumps in anyway.
Of course, the fact that Andrea is directing the web series, combined with Moira’s sudden, mutual attraction to new counselor Millie, might not help her case. And the way her best friend keeps trying to set her up with Millie certainly isn’t helping, well, anything.
And amidst all of this, she’s still got an art camp to run. On her own. But how hard could that be?
One summer can change everything. Moira’s hoping hers doesn’t end in a worst-case-scenario disaster.
JANUARY 8TH (USA)
Cold Ennaline by RJ Astruc — (ASEXUAL)
Goodreads Summary: Ennaline Whitehall has always been faithful. The god’s love is all encompassing, after all. Besides, she hardly had a choice growing up in the church alongside Ro and Ray, the twin sons of Father Piedmont. Now the twins are talking about marriage—all three are reaching the age for betrothal—but Ennaline doesn’t feel that way about the boys. She doesn’t feel that way about anyone, and who knows what the other faithful will do if they learn of her peculiar coldness?
Questions about romance pale in comparison to the rising god, however. Ennaline and the twins have always helped to keep evil at bay and reassure the people, but the holes aren’t closing properly anymore, and the smell of rot is growing. As the faithful gather at the Piedmont farm and something unfathomable claws its way up from beneath the earth, Ennaline struggles to maintain her beliefs. Alone, she is forced to come face-to-face with her god.
JANUARY 8TH (USA)
Poz (The Lives of Remy and Michael #1) by Christopher Koehler — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: Remy Babcock and Mikey Castelreigh are stalwart members of the Capital City Rowing Club’s junior crew, pulling their hardest to earn scholarships to rowing powerhouses like California Pacific. Just a couple of all-American boys, they face the usual pressures of life in an academic hothouse and playing a varsity sport. Add to that the stifling confines of the closet, and sometimes life isn’t always easy, even in the golden bubble of their accepting community. Because Remy and Mikey have a secret: they’re both gay. While Mikey has never hidden it, Remy is a parka and a pair of mittens away from Narnia.
Mikey has always been open about wanting more than friendship, but Remy is as uncomfortable in his own skin as he is a demon on the water. After their signals cross, and a man mistakes Remy for a college student, Remy takes the plunge and hooks up with him. After a furious Mikey cuts Remy off, Remy falls to the pressure of teenage life, wanting to be more and needing it now. In his innocence and naiveté, Remy makes mistakes that have life-long consequences. When Remy falls in the midst of the most important regatta of his life, he can only hope Mikey will be there to catch him when he needs it most.
JANUARY 8TH (USA)
Lightfall Three: Luck, Lost, Lady by Jordan Taylor (Book 3 of 8) — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: It’s always darkest before it’s pitch.
The saga continues….
Raised in 1870s Boston and coming of age in the Wild West, Ivy has to make adjustments. Gala balls and modern plumbing of her youth have given way to a life of dust, horses, and danger around every canyon wall—often zombies. Now Ivy is running for her life, but she has one advantage: she might be the only expert on Daray’s disease west of the Mississippi. If she ever hopes to see Boston again, she must rely on a strange group of new acquaintances and an eccentric Swedish maker who just might be able to build her a ride home—for a price.
JANUARY 13TH (USA)
Unmade (Entangled #2) by Amy Rose Capetta — (LESBIAN, BISEXUAL)
Goodreads Summary: The galaxy-spanning conclusion to Amy Rose Capetta’s acclaimed sci-fi debut, Entangled.
Cadence is in a race against time and space to save her family and friends from the Unmakers, who are tracking the last vestiges of humanity across the cosmos. As the epic battle begins, Cade learns that letting people in also means letting them go. The universe spins out of control and Cade alone must face the music in the page-turning conclusion to Entangled.
JANUARY 20TH (USA)
The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson – (GAY)
THIS WILL BE GAYYA’S BOOK CLUB BOOK FOR FEBRUARY!
Goodreads Summary: Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.
Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.
Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts. But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.
But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better.
A partly graphic novel.
JANUARY 20TH (USA)
Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman — (INTERSEX)
Originally published by Text Publishing in 2013, this is a new edition published by Henry Holt & Co.
Goodreads Summary: Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.
JANUARY 21ST (USA)
A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman –(LESBIAN)
Goodreads Summary: Esther of the Singing Hands is Perach’s Sweetheart, a young and beautiful musician with a Girl Next Door image. When her violin is stolen after a concert in the capital city, she doesn’t expect the queen herself to show up, intent upon solving the mystery.
But Queen Shulamit–lesbian, intellectual, and mother of the six month old crown princess–loves to play detective. With the help of her legendary bodyguard Rivka and her dragon, and with the support of her partner Aviva the Chef, Shulamit turns her mind toward the solution–which she quickly begins to suspect involves the use of illegal magic that could threaten the safety of her citizens.
JANUARY 27TH (USA)
Train by Danny M. Cohen — (GAY)
Goodreads Summary: Over ten days in 1943 Berlin, six teenagers witness and try to escape the Nazi round-ups of Jews and Roma. Giving voice to the unheard victims of Nazism — the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, intermarried Jews, and political enemies of the Nazi regime — this historical thriller will change how we think about Holocaust history.
Marko screwed up. But he’s good at swallowing his fear. By now, the 17-year-old ‘Gypsy’ should be far from Nazi Germany. By now, he should be with Alex. That’s how they planned it. But while Marko has managed to escape the Gestapo, Alex has been arrested in the final round-ups of Berlin’s Jews. Even worse, Marko’s little cousin Kizzy is missing. And Marko knows he’s to blame.
Yet the tides of war are turning. With hundreds of Christian women gathered in the streets to protest the round-ups, the Nazis have suspended the trains to the camps. But for how long? Marko must act now. Against time, and with British warplanes bombing Berlin, Marko hatches a dangerous plan to rescue Alex and find Kizzy.
There are three people who can help: Marko’s sister with her connections to the Resistance, Alex’s Catholic stepsister, and a mysterious Nazi girl with a deadly secret. But will Marko own up to how Kizzy disappeared? And then there’s the truth about Alex — they just wouldn’t understand.
JANUARY 29TH (UK)
Love Hurts (Anthology) edited by Malorie Blackman — (some stories feature QUEER characters)
Goodreads Summary: Malorie Blackman brings together the best teen writers of today in a stunningly romantic collection about love against the odds. Featuring short stories and extracts about modern star-crossed lovers from stars such as Gayle Forman, Markus Zusak and Patrick Ness, and with a brand-new story from Malorie Blackman herself, Love Hurts looks at every kind of relationship, from first kiss to final heartbreak.
Contributors: Maureen Johnson, Catherine Johnson, Philip Pullman, James Dawson, Jenny Downham, Patrick Ness, e.lockhart, Lauren Myracle, Laura Dockrill, Gayle Forman, Makus Zusak, Susie Day, David Levithan, Lauren Kate.
I bought this on a whim because it showed up on the ‘What other customers bought’ section of my Amazon page, which made no sense at all the book I was looking at just then was a totally unrelated YA horror. Amazon clearly has some issues with its recommendation system, then, but it’s all good: after finding this book I was very grateful that they’d plagued me on that particular day.
The book opens when Alix’s parents come into her room and tell her that her girlfriend, Swanee, died of a cardiac arrest early that morning. As readers, we’re immediately in love with Swanee and grieving for her the same way Alix grieves for her – this is obviously proof of Julie Anne Peters’ genius, since Swanee has no actual lines of dialogue apart from during flashback moments and yet we still think she’s awesome. Just as Alix starts to come to terms with her loss, she discovers texts on Swanee’s phone from an unknown girl, calling her ‘sweetheart’ and with absolutely no idea about the tragedy that has gone on.
Alix’s story is told in a gorgeous, unique voice that captures the essence of her character perfectly, and as the narrative unfolds our attitudes towards Swanee change dramatically. There’s a wonderful mystery element to the story, which I normally avoid but loved in this case – it’s very character led and focussed on emotions rather than situations, but still retains excellent pace that keeps you hooked. It’s probably a little shorter than average but I still read it in less than twenty-four hours, which for me is weirdly fast. (I also chose the book over Modern Family and eating dinner whilst it was still hot. DEDICATION). Something contemporary YA seems to miss out on at the moment is keeping levels of suspense high – even if the story is realistic rather than fantastical, I think it’s still so important to keep readers desperate to find out what happens next and this book achieved all these things so well.
Yes, this is a romance novel but it’s one of those ‘something for everyone’ books (sorry for the cliché, everyone): there’s mystery, there are antagonists with stunning depth, there’s some sport, and all of the subplots are intricately woven into the main story so none of it feels disjointed. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who would like a moving and deep YA that remains easy-to-read and doesn’t leave you with that suicidal feeling at the end like a lot of stories with similar themes do (looking at you, Titanic).
My final point is that you don’t have to be gay to read it. I think possibly the reason there isn’t much LGBTQIA+ YA in bookshops is because the people choosing the stock think that straight teenagers don’t want to read about queer kids, and this is completely false. For me, Lies My Girlfriend Told Me was relatable because the emotions involved have universal relevance. And just like with any great book, you don’t have to have had the same experiences as the characters you’re reading about in order to fall in love with them.
Georgie Penney is a teen writer and bookworm from England. At the moment she’s working on a gay YA novel of her own and can be found procrastinating on Twitter (@missgeorgie) or else ranting on her blog (georgiepenney.weebly.com).
The new year for GayYA is looking pretty amazing! Thank you to everyone who answered our end of the year survey, who helped with questions about representation, libraries, and everyone who was a part of GayYA’s community in 2014. We’re taking all of your feedback into account, and hope to make GayYA a better place for you and for everyone.
Some things that will be changing in the new year on the site:
- Search Function – right now if you’re logged into a wordpress account, you can search pretty easily, but we did not realize that other people did not have this option! We will try to add this as soon as possible.
- Tagging System – we have four years of content on this site that is extremely hard to access because we have no thorough tag system. We’ll be working on developing it and implementing it. (In addition, our List of Posts continues to grow! You can get to most of our posts through there, though it is still missing links to a lot of content.)
- Graphic design, logos, cohesive branding – our cake will probably be leaving us
- Sprucing up old posts with pictures
Some more communal things:
- Book clubs! Book clubs every month! Yay! I’ll be working with Katherine Locke on this. It will consist of a tumblr discussion and a twit chat. For the first half of the year, we’ll be focusing on new releases (many of them debut) from mainstream publishers. We may continue this or not, and we’ll welcome your feedback!
January- Just Girls by Rachel Gold
February- The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson
March- Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
April- Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
May- None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
July- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
- Our masterlist—we will be re-revamping our ultimate reading list, and bringing it back to the site so it’s easier to access, and we can make it easier to find exactly what you’re looking for, and to use it for other purposes.
- We’re going to be working on a stronger outreach to libraries, GSAs and other queer youth programs or book communities. (If you are part of something like this, feel free to reach out and introduce yourself, and send us any ideas if you have them! Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Merchandise! We’ll hopefully be making original GayYA swag, as well as shirts that are specific to certain identities such as “transreader” and… well, we have nothing else so far but transreader was just so perfect that we had to keep it. If anyone has any ideas for orientation-specific literary related shirts, send me an email at email@example.com
And lastly some changes to our processes:
- Every month we’ll be conducting what are basically “report cards,” which’ll be sort of mini versions of the survey. They’ll go in depth on one thing, like feedback for the book clubs, how we’re doing on bi rep… etc. Although my email is always open to whatever feedback you have at whatever time, these will provide a helpful pattern.
- Instead of doing so many random guest posts which are exhausting and difficult to organize, we’ll be sending Calls out at the beginning of each month for the types of posts we’d like to have for the next month. That way will hopefully open the door for more people to come to us. Also a note for these: I have talked with SO many people who originally think that they’re not a good enough writer to write something. Then I end up getting them to and it ends up being one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever read. So don’t cut yourself off before you even start. And I’m always willing to work with you to develop a post.
- Reviews! As you may or may not know, we’ve had a “one review per book” informal policy. This, we’ve realized is not actually helpful. We’re starting to seek more focus on the representation rather than if the book was good or bad, and this policy really closes a door. People from different backgrounds will see books differently, and all of their opinions are valid and important. So! While you are more than welcome to drop a dissenting opinion in the comments of a review, if you have more to say, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And the same note from above fits here as well.
- We will hopefully be doing more interviews with authors!
There’s also a lot of specific feedback you gave us that we’ll be incorporating, like more bi rep, more intersectionality, more coverage of graphic novels and new releases and like a lot more. We’ll be bringing all of this into reality as quickly as possible.
Probably more than all of this, however, we’re going to try and keep the ability for motion in this structure alive. Change and evolution should be expected—both because of the changing lives of the admin and volunteers, and due to whatever input we get from you.
GayYA is by the community and for the community, and we hope to continue making it a place where everyone can feel safe, respected, and heard.
Happy New Year, all! We’re just getting geared up for our newest book club. We’ll be reading Just Girls by Rachel Gold!
Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can’t be that bad.
Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag College, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.
New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.
Here are the buy links!
We’ll be discussing both on Twitter and on Tumblr.
On tumblr, track and post in the GayYA Book Club tag. You can feel free to post reactions/thoughts as you read, reviews, pictures, introductions of who you are, fan art… anything you want, that’s related to Just Girls. GayYA’s tumblr account, thegayya, will reblog things so more people will see them!
Then there’ll be an hour long Twitchat on January 21st at 8pm EST (lead by the wonderful Katherine Locke).
Looking forward to reading and discussing with ya’ll! Email email@example.com if you have any questions.