Today we have author Shannon LC Cate talking about race and gender histories, the importance of small-press or self publishing, and of course, her book Jack. Find out more about Jack here!
Question: Why did you choose the particular time and setting? (Post Civil War, New York and Arizona?) What about that time and those places interested you, or served the story?
SHANNON LC CATE: I studied this period during my graduate work in American literature. When I write historical fiction, I tend to naturally choose the last quarter of the 19th century because of my familiarity with that time and its various social settings. As for the places–I knew I would need a western setting, which is where the story began in my mind. I chose the Arizona Territory, because though I’ve never lived there, my dearest friend lives in Tucson and I have fallen in…not love exactly, but fascination with the place and its history on my visits to see her.
I needed to go backwards from the western scene that initiated the story in my mind (the first scene I conceived was near the climax of the novel) and the more I filled out the main character of Jack, the more it seemed he had come from Five Points, which was a rough immigrant area of Manhattan in this period. It just fit his character perfectly for that to have been his background.
Q: What’s your favorite feedback, so far, from readers?
SC: I love to hear that teens are reading and connecting with my book! Lots of my own age-peers have read and enjoyed it, and that’s wonderful, of course. But when I get feedback from an actual “young adult” that’s when I know I’ve hit the target for writing “young adult” literature. Most especially gratifying are the comments from queer teens who can identify with Lucy and Jack for that reason, too.
Q: Why did you choose to make the character of Jack biracial?
SC: Jack’s race makes sense for the time period and the setting. There was (and is) much more mixing of races in U.S. history than is commonly discussed in the mainstream culture–especially in urban communities of recent immigrants. Many families today contain both Black and white members even when they are unaware of it. One thing I like to do in my fiction is bring out hidden histories–queer histories, of course, but race histories, too.
The more I thought about who Jack was–from his looks, to his childhood story of running away from an orphanage, the more it made sense that he was biracial, and to a certain extent, he had been abandoned because of it. You can read Jack’s back story in a free short story I wrote as a prequel to the novel, called “Jump.” I knew this was Jack’s story all along, but I didn’t decide to write it down until an enthusiastic fan asked for more.
Q: Is Jack transgender? Or an orphan girl who has found living as a boy safer and/or more freeing than conforming to the accepted feminine behavior of the period?
SC: Yes. And yes.
Actually though, Jack is not transgender because that category wasn’t available in the 1870s. To call him transgender would be inappropriately anachronistic. Jack is an example of a historical phenomenon of girls or women changing their identities to boys and men. Sometimes this was temporary–many women served in the Army in the Civil War dressed as men, for example. Some went “back” to being women after the war. Some remained men. We can’t quite know what exactly it meant to them, because our society is so different than theirs was–not as constrained by rigid notions of binary gender. Jack was an orphan girl who made a practical decision to change genders. But grown up Jack is a man. He is a man with a difference, to be sure, but a man.
Q: There’s some major horse riding in the book. Can you talk about that?
SC: Well… much of the action does take place in the West–which is a good excuse to put horses in the story. I have always loved horses and as a kid, loved reading about horses. I couldn’t resist a few good horse scenes!
Q: Did the story take you anywhere you didn’t expect it to? Any surprises while writing?
SC: There is a pretty big surprise that came to me entirely out of the blue, when I had to solve a problem in the plot. It became Jack and Lucy’s problem and don’t you know, they solved it for me! It’s good to have clever main characters who can help a writer at sticky moments. I can’t tell you the surprise though, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers.
Q: How would you like to see Gay YA evolve in the next few years?
SC: What I’d love to see is a place where readers can find the books that don’t necessarily make it into the big NYC publishing houses because they are supposedly too risky, or too niche-interest to sell in big chain bookstores.
While it’s good to see the offerings among mainstream big presses begin to include more queer characters, there is still a fairly narrow script–and a narrow type of “queer” character that is allowed to squeeze through those gates.
But we know that readers’ interests are broader than that. If NYC isn’t willing to gamble on many, say, trans characters of color, who are simply who they are and it is not The Big Issue in the book, then small presses, e-first presses, and self-publishing writers can–and do–take that plunge.
GayYA can be–will be, I hope!–the place to find those books.
Shannon LC Cate has been writing about family, parenting, politics and religion since 2000. Her work has appeared on Babble.com, BlogHer.com, Literary Mama.com, VillageQ.com, in Adoptive Families Magazine, Gay Chicago Magazine and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Jack, is an Editor’s Top Pick from Musa Publishing.
Shannon, her partner, and their two young daughters divide their time between Chicago and Urbana, Illinois. You can find her online at ShannonLCCate.com or on Twitter @LilySea.
Announcing our August 2014 BotM: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block!
Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
©2013 Francesca Lia Block (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
We like to pick not only our favorite books for the Book of the Month, but also ones that contribute something very unique to Gay YA. In most Gay YA (especially speculative fiction), there’s only one or two queer characters, and they’re surrounded by a cast of straight, cisgender characters. And while we’re happy to get representation in that way, it’s also great when you find a book in which the majority of the characters are queer– especially in speculative fiction, because for some reason most authors think that being queer is still taboo in future and fantasy worlds, and more often than not, we end up with a book made up entirely of straight, cisgender characters. Love in the Time of Global Warming is such a wonderful subversion of that. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let us just say there is queerness abound in this book, and it’s done respectfully and wonderfully. I especially love it, because I love all the re-tellings of Greek and Norse mythology, and I’ve always wanted a re-telling with queer characters. This book, being based on The Odyssey, fills that.
And, okay, I must unleash the inner fangirl: This book is so good you guys. SO GOOD. Literally, I carry my copy around with my everywhere and snuggle it while I sleep (although I do alternate with some of my other favorites like Brooklyn, Burning, Split, and TPoBaW).
I’m super excited about this next month, and not just because our BotM is one of my very favorite books of all time.
We have TEN BOOKS for a giveaway– 5 copies of Love in the Time of Global Warming aaaaannnnnd 5 ARCs of The Island of Excess Love, the next book in the series! I screamed when I opened the package…they’re so beautiful guys. SO BEAUTIFUL.
We are doing a Skype interview with Francesca Lia Block, the wonderful, amazing author, and are going to try record that audio for you all. I say ‘try’ because we’ve never worked with the technology before, and also since we are both such huge Francesca Lia Block fans, well, you might just be listening to a lot of giggling and pterodactyl-like screeches.
And on top of that, we are starting the process for a total site redesign– not only are we waayyy behind the book blogging times with the layout we have now, but it also restricts access to a bunch of our really great posts from the past, many of which are still 100% relevant today. So we’re getting ready to switch over to a new layout, which will make it much more pleasant to read new posts, and will make it easier to find posts on whatever subject you might be interested in.
We’ve got some great guest bloggers lined up for August as well. We’re going to be talking about minor queer characters in media, and f/f pairings and general female sexuality– if you’ve got some thoughts on either of those topics– or something related to them– and would like to do a guest blog, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your topic idea.
I’m so excited for August you guys I can barely contain it. In the meantime, if any of you have read or are reading Love in the Time of Global Warming, hop on over to our forums to discuss it with us! (This will earn you 5 entries in the giveaway! )
Oh, and until the end of the month, we’ll be accepting applicants for our book review team! Just send us (email@example.com) a little blurb about yourself and a sample review that you have written, and we’ll let you know within a few days if you’re a fit or not! People of all ages, sexualities, romantic orientations, and genders are welcome to apply.
That’s all for now!
Your Webmistress, Victoria
Molly Beth Griffin
I didn’t start writing my first novel assuming that it would actually be read by anyone but me and my graduate school advisor, and maybe the memory of my teenage self. It was an experiment in longer-form fiction taken on by a self-defined picture book writer. But the project took flight, and after years of hard work, *Silhouette of a Sparrow *hit shelves in hardcover in 2012 and then again in paperback in 2013.
Which was terrifying.
Aside from the usual trepidation of a debut novelist, I had some added fears. Why? Because although the book, to me, is a beautiful and wholesome love story about a girl transforming into the woman she wants to be, I knew that to some it could be considered baser reading material for teens than pornography. It has gay people in it. Gay people! And, you know, a little bit of sex.
And what I think is a unique and wonderful asset of the book—the fact that it is a love story and not an “issue book”—I knew might cause even more problems in the big world. People might actually pick it up not knowing that it has gay people in it! They might think it’s historical fiction, a coming-of-age novel, nature writing, and so forth, and then be shocked and appalled by its “hidden agenda.” Or something. They might even have the gall to ban it. Kissing is dangerous! Can’t let teens read about that!
But as nervous as I was about all that, I was also thrilled by it. It has always irked me that novels about queer people are almost always coming-out stories, where the actual romance takes a back seat. Thankfully there are some new ones that break this mold (my very favorites being *Brooklyn, Burning *by Steve Brezenoff, and *Every Day *by David Levithan), but *Silhouette of a Sparrow* is still in the minority. It seems obvious to me: gay teens sometimes just want to read books about other gay teens that *aren’t about being gay*. And straight teens need to see gay teens for what they are—people, with all kinds of complex issues related to and unrelated to being gay. These characters’ stories are worth reading about in their own right, by all kinds of people.
I haven’t been aware of any outright censorship of my book, so far. I’m sure that some gate-keepers have restricted access to it in quiet ways, by choosing not to include it on summer reading lists or face it out on the library shelf. But its “content” has probably inspired some adults to actively put it into the hands of a teenager—the right teenager—and then have a conversation with them about it. Some gate-keepers are swinging the gate wide open, and to them I am grateful. I never exactly intended to write for this audience, but now I’m eager to connect with them. Taking my cue from today’s queer teens and allies, I’m setting my fears aside and joining the conversation.
Molly Beth Griffin is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and a writing teacher at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her first picture book, *Loon Baby, *came out with Houghton Mifflin in 2011, and her first YA novel, *Silhouette of a Sparrow*, was published by Milkweed Editions in 2012. *Silhouette of a Sparrow *won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and ForeWord’s Book of the Year. It was featured on ALA’s Rainbow List and the Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature. Her next book is a picture book called *Rhoda’s Rock Hunt*, which comes out with the Minnesota Historical Society Press in October. Although her writing reaches across all age groups and genres, it all demonstrates her passion for exploring young people’s changing relationship to the natural world. www.mollybethgriffin.com
SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW is GayYA’s July Book of the Month. We are giving away a signed copy in our monthly raffle, which you can enter HERE!
Upon opening Silhouette of a Sparrow, I took its first-person narrative as a tragic misstep, which is the case in many YA novels I have read (or, attempted to read). I was pleasantly mistaken, and by chapter 2, I was hooked.
Silhouette of a Sparrow is narrated by 16-year-old Garnet Richardson, a bird-lover with a curious mind and an honest voice, who is sent to stay with relatives, the Harringtons, over the summer while her mother cares for her war-torn father.
Garnet, who has been brought up by her mother to be the future lady of a middle-class 1920s household, is happy for the opportunity for independence and adventure. With the help of her aunt, Mrs. Harrington, Garnet acquires a job at a local hat shop, where she chances a meeting with a dazzling flapper named Isabella.
The two hit it off immediately, and in pursuing Isabella, Garnet steps outside of the life she knows and glimpses lower-class ‘20s society in Minnesota, befriending the colored doorman of the hotel where she stays and carefully deceiving the haughty Harringtons, who would disapprove of her growing relationship with the girl they view as a “common, low-class slut”.
As the summer burns on, Garnet learns about blue-grey herons, woodpeckers, and the life of Isabella, who “looks at her the way she looks at birds.” At the same time, her cousin Hannah grows suspicious with each misstep, and letters from home–her father’s condition, her expectant boyfriend’s “important” question for her–plague her mind with doubts about her future and the choices to come.
As a teenaged lesbian, I had not seen myself portrayed on the page until age sixteen; this is only the third book that I have read in which a character of my orientation appears. I found Garnet to be well-written and relatable, portrayed as a human being and not simply for her sexuality. Each character in the story is a shade of grey with their own flaws and strengths, and each makes a visible journey throughout the book. (I especially liked the character development of Garnet’s cousin, Hannah Harrington, who caught my eye the second her scowl graced the page.) I saw myself and those around me in the characters, despite living 90+ years after the story is set.
Molly Beth Griffin paints an easily-readable, well-researched picture of summer in Minnesota, the roaring ‘20s, and love without labels. Garnet and Isabella and their story are portrayed with gentle honesty and a brave humanity. Silhouette of a Sparrow is a flighty summer romance, and above all a “wonderful novel about independence and first love.” (–Marsha Qualey). 10/10 would recommend.
Book review written by Kathleen, co-webmistress of GayYA.org.
Hey everyone! Today we have Kirstin Cronn-Mills, author of BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN (our June 2014 Book of the Month) talking about music, research, her book, and of course ice cream. Tune in!
Victoria: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is about a guy named Gabe, who is navigating his way through life, romance, family and friendship, the same as any other teen. The only difference is that he was born in a girl’s body, as Elizabeth. BMUC tells the story of him coming into himself and leaving Elizabeth behind. How did this story come to you?
Kirstin: This story was a bit of a surprise. I wanted to write about a guy who loved music and radio, and who wanted to be a radio DJ because he could hide behind his show and be a cool, funky, interesting version of himself. At the same time I was beginning the book, I was picking books for a diversity literature class at my college, and I came across a book called The Phallus Palace, by Dean Kotula, about trans* men and their transitions. It included short autobiographical stories from these men, and I was struck by how clearly they stood up for themselves, against some serious odds. They didn’t abandon themselves, and I admired that. Then BAM. Gabe became a trans* man—because I could see a trans* kid using a radio show to try out her or his authentic self. Then I had to figure out if I could really write a book about a trans* guy.
V: Is there anything specific you wanted to achieve or avoid while writing Beautiful Music for Ugly Children?
K: I don’t think I had anything specific I wanted to achieve, really, except telling an engaging, funny, interesting story. I wanted to get to the emotional truth of what it means to have an ally, and what it means to step into who you really are. I wanted to convey some of the joy of being a music and radio nerd, too. : ) I didn’t set out to write an issue book, or to do anything specific for trans* rights and equality, though I think the book does some of that. But if you try to write a book with an agenda, you end up sounding preachy, and that’s rarely positive. I set out to tell a good story about a music nerd who happens to be trans*.
It took me a long time to realize what I was getting myself into, in terms of privilege and information and exploitation and everything like that, and by the time I understood how much of a mistake I might be making, I was too in love with Gabe, and couldn’t give him up. So I did an enormous amount of research to get the trans * part of his life into the realm of possibility. The emotional journey of the story—finding ourselves, finding friends, feeling like you’re not alone—is the stuff that people can identify with no matter what gender they are, so I figured I was OK there. But making sure the trans* part was respectful and correct (within the realm of correct) was the part I sweated the most.
There are DEFINITELY things I wanted to avoid while I was writing: first, stereotypes/ negativity about individuals who are trans*, and second, cisgender privilege. I hope I’ve done that. I’ve been questioned about why I included violence in the book, when it seems sort of stereotypical, but I’d counter with the fact that the threat of violence is an undercurrent of many trans* individuals’ lives, so it’s realistic to include it. And, if you want to write about positive things like friends who love you unconditionally, showing the negative allows us to value the goodness even more.
V: How did you conduct your research for this book?
K: Oh wow—I did all sorts of things. I read my ass off (both with books and on the Internet), I did a lot of lurking and listening, and the thing I liked best was spending time with youth in a gender exploration group in the Cities. The group moved several
different places over the course of writing the book (they’re currently housed at RECLAIM, in Minneapolis, a phenomenal organization) and they were instrumental in helping me understand how Gabe’s mind might work. They were very generous to me, letting me listen to their stories and ask them questions. I owe them so much.
V: In the book, you use the term ‘bio guy.’ Why did you decide to use that instead of cis?
K: You have to remember how much the conversation around trans* life has changed in the last two years since the book was published. Using the word “cis” to describe someone who’s not trans* is a relatively new thing! Nine years ago, when I started the book, nobody was using the word “cis.” I think I picked the term “bio guy” because I’m a poet at my core—that’s how I started my creative writing life—and I liked how the words sounded together. Plus it was short and sweet and it got the point across.
V: In BMUC, Gabe listens to a lot of music– do you share his music taste?
K: Some of it. We get joy from some of the same songs, but I’m not a huge fan of current pop music, nor of the “bitches and hos” variety of hip hop and rap. When it comes to music, I tend to be pretty flexible, and I’ll give anything a listen (if it’s not misogynistic and rude). In that way, Gabe and I are alike.
V: What was the hardest part of the book to write?
K: The hardest part was making sure I wasn’t screwing up the trans* stuff, and watching out for stereotypes and privilege and all of that. Emotionally, the hardest part was writing the violence, because I am extremely protective of Gabe, John, and Paige, especially Gabe. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. In general, I don’t feel like it’s wise to get attached to my characters, but I can’t seem to break that habit with Gabe.
V: Is there anything you can tells us about what’s next on your writing horizon?
K: I have an illustrated YA novel coming out in the spring of 2016, called Original Fake. It’s about sibling rivalry and street art (think Banksy), and there’s a lot of gender flexibility in it. I’m also working on a new novel that’s about bodies versus brains, and also porn (!). We’ll see if I can pull that off.
V: And most importantly, do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
K: Oh wow—I like lots of ice cream flavors, but since I don’t eat chocolate, most people will not be impressed. My favorite flavor is peanut butter, closely followed by lemon gelato. But I’m pretty flexible!
Female sexuality in young adult and new adult fiction is a topic that has interested me for many years, and something that I’ve been wanting to write about for just as long. I’m glad I waited until now, because last month was a gold mine for arising issues relating to the topic. On twitter, social occurrences and media treatment of said occurrences sparked the trend of #YesAllWomen and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. While the events that initiated both hashtags were either disheartening or devastating, women used social media to prove that their opinions mattered. I also had the opportunity to attend RT 2014, a convention where nearly all attendees were women.
It’s been a good year for me in terms of diversifying my own writing as well. In March, I completed a lesbian novella that is a companion story for THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE, my NA novel that debuted a few months ago. I’ve also been drafting a YA lesbian romance that’s on the verge of being finished. Both of these stories have been brewing in my head for several years now, and it’s my sheer luck that I wrote them at a time when reading communities are very actively rallying for more LGBTQ fiction.
But I am wary of this progress in publishing. I am skeptical of it, and I think we have a long, long way to go.
Since my debut novel is new adult, I can say that I’m from the realm of the crazy category, one of the newest additions to labelling in the publishing world. The category of new adult is so fresh that no one really knows its potential yet, but that it’s influenced by both adult romance and young adult. One thing is for sure—if you go onto Amazon’s bestseller’s list for New Adult and College, you will see lots and lots of white, heterosexual couples on covers. You will also see a ton of male abs.
In the current marketplace, it seems that a new adult novel would drown without a sexy male love interest to hold it afloat. That’s not to say that a NA romance must be hetero-exclusive, but NA LGBTQ is incredibly limited. The subgenre of NA LGBTQ literature may more accurately be titled NA G.
Male/male romances are for sure set to become a trend in New Adult. Why? Because New Adult is heavily influenced by adult contemporary romance, erotic romance, and erotica, and within those genres, M/M romance is wildly successful. Which is fantastic (!) and very exciting to at least see one aspect of the queer community having representation within the realm of romance and new adult.
But that’s all it is… one aspect.
This year, I attended RT Con in New Orleans. In the midst of shoveling food in my mouth and meeting online friends, I attended both LGBTQ and NA panels. There was one author (one!) on the queer panels I attended or researched who identified as an author mainly writing lesbian fiction (and she was a YA author). While there was a panel strictly for M/M romance, there wasn’t one for F/F romance. And in most of the adult LGBTQ panels, the focus was set on M/M romance or M/M/F ménage. I didn’t see a single advertisement for lesbian romance on any of the walls in the convention hotel, nor on any of the book swag I received. In a panel about the future of New Adult, where an agent, an author, and editors spoke about how New Adult was evolving away from static contemporary romantic plotlines, an editor said that she was actively looking for M/M New Adult romance because of its potential to explode in the marketplace. However, she was wary about F/F romance. Not to say that she wouldn’t acquire it, but lesbians are a much harder sell.
I won’t place the blame on anyone for that statement. Publishing is a business, and publishers acquire books they believe they can make a profit on, end of story. There are 10,000 gay romance titles on Amazon listed under ebooks, and 2,300 lesbian romance titles. We know that it’s still rather taboo in our culture to be queer. But why are queer women less desirable to read about in romance?
I don’t know everything on this subject, and I’m not going to pretend to, but I would argue that straight women are the majority of romance novel consumers, and many straight women are uncomfortable imagining a sexual scenario where a man isn’t involved. Furthermore, they’d rather read about two gay men having sex than two women.
I think that the romance genre is a wonderful thing. I think the fact that thousands of women flocked to a Marriott last month is phenomenal and empowering. I personally read about one heterosexual romance title a month and often enjoy them, especially when they have a blatant feminist edge. But here’s the thing—if the publishing community, self-published writers, and readers continue to *only* embrace romance with male love interests or multiple male love interests when there is a female protagonist, we are perpetuating a notion that women can only be sexual creatures when men are in the picture. Being sexy for ourselves or for other women isn’t acceptable, but men being sexy strictly for other men is.
When the #YesAllWomen hashtag began trending after the devastating shooting in Santa Barbara, many women spoke up about their experiences of sexual violence and sexual validation as a teenager. I cannot tell you how many tweets I read where women (even queer women) admitted to feeling the need to dress or act a certain way to feel accepted by the men in their life, and the men and boys they wanted to impress. Many of these women began being socialized this way when they were teenagers.
This is why the categories of young adult and new adult and the way we portray young queer women are so important.
Up until this year, I hadn’t read a YA LGBT title with a sexually active lesbian heroine. I’d read several LGBT titles that were sweet lesbian romances, but none that even suggested sex between two girls. I’m sure a handful of titles existed, but they were incredibly hard to find.
This year, I am happy to say that it’s become a little easier for me. I have read and have been recommended new young adult books with lesbian sex scenes or implied sex, books that include sex not out of obligation to diversify literature, but for the sake of authentic, steamy, heart-pounding romance. Are there enough of these books? Absolutely not, but at least there is a sense of representation.
This crop of young adult and new adult books with lesbian sex and foreplay, implications of lesbian sex, and sexually active lesbian characters are important not just for queer teens, but for teens and young adults in general. We are offering teens literature implying that men aren’t the only ones molding human sexuality. Sex without men isn’t something to be uncomfortable over, but something that can be erotic or enticing–something to celebrate, explore, and empower all women, regardless of our own sexual orientation.
Have a favorite sexy young adult or new adult lesbian romance? Share it with us in the comments!
Sarah Harian grew up in the foothills of Yosemite and received her B.A. and M.F.A. from Fresno State University. When not writing, she is usually hiking some mountain or another in the Sierras, playing video games with her husband, or rough-housing with her dog.
First let me say that I’m very happy and honored to be writing a blog post for Gay YA. What I’d like to talk about today is the representation of cross-dressers in YA literature. Though transgender characters are becoming easier to find, cross-dressing characters are not. Why is this? I think it represents our prejudices as a society. I truly believe that cross-dressers are one of the most marginalized and misunderstood segments of the population today. I’m thinking specifically of teen cross-dressers. Gay and transgender kids have support groups, but CD teens have very few if any resources.
Representation of cross-dressers in YA literature is a mixed bag. Some books genuinely deal with the issues in a realistic way, some play to the stereotypes, and some offer a superficial treatment of the subject. I’m going to discuss some of the currently available teen cross-dresser novels.
Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis: Happy Families falls under the category of the “problem novel.” The teens aren’t cross-dressers themselves, but are forced to deal with it in their family. Teenage twins Ysabel and Justin must come to terms with their father’s change in gender identity. I liked the fact that this subject was being dealt with in a YA novel, however I think the treatment was superficial and unrealistic. For example: before his son and daughter know anything about his being transgendered, the father shows up in full drag to his son’s debate and later gives the explanation that his flight was late and he didn’t have time to change. Would a real person do that?
What bothered me the most was that the author took a very simplistic view of the subject matter. Several issues were never addressed: Was the father’s transition heading for surgery or would he be happy with cross-dressing? Was the father interested in having relationships with men or did he want to be with women? Though it’s very positive that someone wrote a novel about a cross-dressing father, Happy Families didn’t begin to address the nitty-gritty issues such a family would face.
Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers: When Johnny’s father dies and his mother retreats into herself, Johnny turns to alcohol to deal with his problems. He’s Gothy, usually wearing black nail polish and mascara. When he discovers Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, he realizes that he’d like to BE her. He has no gay tendencies, but dressing like the cool, tough pop star quells his angst and makes life bearable for him. He doesn’t quite know how to tell his girlfriend, though. This a quirky and touching story that rings true throughout. It shows what it feels like to be an outsider and how society deals with people who deviate from the norm. Debby Harry Sings in French talks about the aspect of cross-dressing that is seldom discussed—that is cross-dressing for improved self-confidence and enhanced self-esteem.
Freak Show by James St. James: When teenage drag queen Billy Bloom is forced to live with this uncle in the Bible Belt, life falls apart for him. This is an over-the-top campy book about a boy who goes to school in the most outlandish drag queen outfits he can possibly come up with. It’s funny and entertaining, but it’s not meant to be realistic. It feeds into the stereotype that many people think—that cross-dressers are all drag queens.
The Flip Side by Andrew Matthews: The Flip Side provides a different take on the Shakespearean mistaken identity plot. Robert Hunt is asked to play the female role of Rosalind, opposite his classmate Milena as Orlando. Rob discovers that he likes dressing up as a woman, and, more importantly, he likes who he is as Rosalind: stronger and more confident than he is when he’s just Rob. Thus begins his experimentation with cross-dressing and exploration of his own sexuality. Though it’s admirable that the book deals with these issues, it often reads like a bad sitcom. It’s convenient that Milena is also sexually questioning, that Rob’s best friend reveals that he is gay, and that his classmates are equally interested in gender-bending.
Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker: is about a boy, Sam Lopez, who dresses as a girl as a prank at an English boarding school. Sam gets into the whole thing a little more than he expected to, giving makeup lessons to the girls and eventually wearing a bra. The story is told in short chapters by various viewpoint characters, which is interesting. The author is mainly going for humor here. The ending is a little over the top and everything wraps up too conveniently.
Boy in the Dress by David Williams: is aimed toward middle grade readers. Dennis is a twelve-year-old boy who loves poring over Vogue magazines. Dennis meets up with Lisa who is two years older and also loves fashion. She plays dress up with Dennis and convinces him to come to school as “Denise,” a French exchange student. Funny situations result, and there are poignant moments between Dennis and his dad and brother. The book is a quick read and it is good for bringing awareness of gender issues to a younger age group.
The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds: This book is one of the few that deals with female-to-male cross-dressing. Kendar (Kenny) Lugo has lived with her father’s girlfriend, Aunt Glo, ever since her father went to prison for drug dealing. She binds her breasts, cuts her hair short and wears boy’s clothing. She hates the fact of being female and rejects the changes her body is going through. Kenny is bullied at school but finds redemption through the kind teacher who runs the school yearbook. A tragedy sends her family spiraling out of control. Sheri Reynolds is a master of character development. The story is engaging and rings true. In the end, the story is uplifting.
Princess Prince by Tomoko Taniguchi: This book is manga, which has a long history of gender-bending. Set in a medieval fairy tale land with creatures called “angel birds,” twin male princes, Matthew and Lawrence, lived a normal life until their mother’s tragic death, which made their father, the King, believe that an ancient prophecy was put into motion. The king thought the only way for his boys to be spared from this curse was to raise one of them as a princess. When puberty hits, complications arise for the twins. The book has beautiful illustrations and follows fairytale conventions. This novel is an example of forced feminization.
Cevin’s Deadly Sin by Sally Bosco: Okay, this is my book, and that’s why I’ve left it for last. It’s the story of a hetero, teen cross-dresser: his struggles with first love, self-identity and bullying during his senior year in a small, Florida town. In writing this book, I researched the experiences actual cross-dressers encountered during their teen years, and I tried to mirror that in my portrayal of Cevin. I also strongly wanted to make him heterosexual because many of the cross-dressers I met were hetero, contrary to popular belief. The book portrays an otherwise normal teen boy and the struggles he encounters while learning how to turn his outsider status at school into an asset. It was my master’s thesis for an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction.
These are some recent young adult cross-dresser novels. I think they are important because they encourage acceptance of those with non-standard gender roles. I hope you’ll be encouraged to read some of them.
Do you know of any other books to add to this list?
Sally Bosco has a fascination with gender: the perceptions we have, the attitudes people have toward those who don’t fit into the usual categories, and the feelings we have about our own genders. She loves writing young adult fiction because she strongly relates to teenage angst, the search for self-identity and the feelings of being an outsider. Check out her webpage at sallybosco.com.
BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN is GayYA’s June Book of the Month. We’re giving away a signed copy to two lucky winners in our giveaway, which you can enter here. Later in the month, you can look forward to an interview from Kirstin Cronn-Mills and a TwitChat inspired by the book.
Gabe, our protagonist, is the most awesome DJ in the history of DJ-ing. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about music, from the one-hit wonders of the eighties to what singles were A side and B side, and from Elvis Costello to his hero Elvis Presley. Sometimes he describes songs and artists so vividly that I thought I could hear them in my own head.
He was also born a girl.
The reason Gabe’s story was so fascinating to me is because it’s so different. It’s part of the modern movement that involves queer books with queer protagonist who don’t fuss about queer issues but nevertheless the issues remain subtly present in their lives, and I think this is very much the case amongst LGBTQIA+ youth in real life. We don’t see gay teenagers going home to their Tumblr blog or their diary or whatever they have and writing ‘I’M GAY, I’M GAY, I’M GAY. JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, I’M GAY.’ The same is true of anybody in a minority group which regularly receives a lot of hate, either from individuals in that person’s life or from the media and pop culture in a more general sense. According to my Kindle, we’re a whole 3% into the novel before Gabe is anyone other than Gabe: a music-loving guy who is awesome and has an equally awesome friend called John who buys him music and makes peanut butter and banana sandwiches. So by the time three percent of the book has gone by, we like Gabe. A lot.
We also think of him as a guy, and that’s what makes this book so special.
I’ve read some other books about transsexual teens where it’s stated in the first paragraph that the protagonist (or whoever is transsexual in the book) was born with the wrong body for their gender. And though that can be a successful way of presenting the information, particularly for readers who are queer or for ally readers, it’s different for readers who aren’t so familiar with trans issues or who are transphobic. They’ll read the first paragraph and put the book down. When, instead, we’re presented with a protagonist who we admire and feel a connection to (and maybe envy a little bit because they know so much about actual good music), we keep on reading, and when Gabe does tell us about the hurdle in his life, we just keep going because we care about what happens to him. For me, there was no question about his gender. He’s a guy, and he was always a guy. Being able to present a character that way from page one is so great and it was pulled off amazingly in BMUC.
Sometimes contemporary YA can lack in pace: there is emotion and romance and tragedy pouring off of every page (which is wonderful) but a lack of tension, suspense and/or mystery to keep us turning the page. I think, in my case, it was the combination of the witty humour, the insight into trans issues that successfully avoids sounding like a textbook, the romantic sub-plot with Gabe’s best (female) friend, and the worry that I had for him as a character. So many times he was in, or about to be in, a difficult situation that could have hurt him, either through literal violence or in more of a figurative sense. I couldn’t stop reading. I read this in one day, in two sittings: the ninety minute train journey from Kings Cross to Cambridge and then the journey home again. It was one of those amazingly absorbing books that makes you forget where you are, that makes you forget you’re surrounded by loud people or that there’s graffiti outside or that you’re anywhere at all but with Gabe, listening as he presents live on air to his legion of listeners and demonstrates his courage and love of music.
This isn’t an issue book. It’s not clinical, or over the top, or too rushed, or too slow. It’s very hard to notice that you’re reading it at all: it’s not a book made of words, it’s a story made of music.
I hope you’ll give it a listen.
Georgie 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).
Woah, it’s June already! I don’t know how that happened.
I headed to the library last week and picked up my monthly quota of Gay YA, which I’m here to share with you all. On the docket for this month isssssss:
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
After David Levithan said at the con I attended that Weetzie Bat had inspired him to write, I had to read it. And Francesca Lia Block is one of my new favorite authors, so I had double the motivation!
This has been on my TBR FOREVER. I just started it last night, and it’s not at all what I expected– but in a very good way! It opens with a news story about a young guy who was beaten and left for dead because he was gay. I knew that…but I didn’t realize the story was told from his ex-bestfriend’s POV. And she is fab so far…I’m super excited.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
This has also been on my TBR for a loooooong time. I’ve heard it has some really great trans* representation, and I’m eager to see if that’s true.
Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
This is a re-read, and most of you probably know by now how much I adore this series. But seriously, like. There’s a polyamorous love triangle with the most amazing young woman and two bisexual faerie kings, and more lovely queerness in this book.
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
Okay, so, I know like everybody and their mother recommended this to me, but why did you not force me to read it? Because oh my god. I’m a hundred pages in and absolutely blown away. If you want a book that talks about bisexuality right, read this.
and Young Avengers & Runaways: Civil War
Yeah, I have no idea if this is where I want to be starting with Young Avengers, but it was the only one at the library, and mainly due to bisexual-books being so excited about it, I decided I needed to try something from it… and also the cashier at the comic shop I go to recommended it saying it was the first book he’d read that had a queer character, and I just, like, gaaaah. So I started with the only one I could get my hands on!
And looky! I actually bought some this month, too.
This is my all-time favorite David Levithan book. For now, at least. I haven’t actually read most of his stuff. I was going to try and read some this month, but they were all checked out from the library. But anyways, I got it signed! And I got to meet him! And literally he is the best person like I can’t. ——->
Okay so this isn’t Gay YA, but I just read a very popular YA romance which dealt with abuse so poorly that I had to re-read this book and tell everyone I know to read it. It’s about two brothers who grew up in a house with an abusive father. It’s so good and so important. And also Swati Avasthi is just like the best.
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
If you’ve been following us on Twitter or Tumblr the past few weeks, you probably know just how in love I am with this book. Like…I am IN LOVE. It’s a post-apocalyptic book that follows the story line of the Odyssey. The protagonist is female and queer and just a lovely character, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s basically just a bucket of wonderful queerness and adventures and superpowers and happytimes. You should all read it. I’m SO excited for the next one to come out in the fall! (Also, the copy I have is signed. This is why you should buy from indie booksellers like Addendum.)
So that’s all for this month! And since The Great Spam Purge has finally been completed and comments are open again, you should drop me a comment below with what Gay YA titles you’re reading!
-Your Co-Webmistress, Victoria
Juliann Rich’s debut novel Caught in the Crossfire is a new and much needed story in Gay YA literature.
The book is about a gay teen who is a devout Christian, and struggling to reconcile those two things. We first meet Jonathan at the beginning of a month long bible camp. At the beginning of the story, Jonathan is aware of his feelings for guys, but not too eager to try and understand them. We’re also introduced to Ian, the love interest, quite early. Ian, we learn, is also gay and is much more outspoken about gay rights. The beginning of Jonathan’s friendship with Ian is the catalyst to him really discovering his sexuality and forcing him to come to terms with what it means for him and his faith.
In a previous post, I mentioned how this book reminded me of fan fiction. That is not a diss at all– if you look down on fan fiction, you probably have never read a really really good one. The thing about fan fiction, is that it talks about sex in a very honest (and yes, explicit,) way. And because of this, it can show what consent and safety looks like, what the repercussions and aftereffects can be, better than anything else. That’s what made me reckon this book to fan fiction: the honesty with which she talks about sex.
Two of the main supporting characters were a Native American woman, and a disabled man. I was happy when they came into the story, because all too often gay white boys become the face of diversity, and Caught in the Crossfire avoided that pitfall. The thing that made me particularly happy was that they weren’t given worth simply because a white guy decided to like them. They were fully formed characters who held their own space, and even gave HIM worth with their gazes. But it was also very clear they had lives of their own, outside of helping Jonathan– which is not only realistic, but also very respectful and unfortunately not often done.
Along the same lines, in many love stories between two guys, there’s always a female that falls into the “desperate cock-blocking bitch.” While there was a girl in this story that was interested in Jonathan, I think you would have to stretch very far to throw that at her.
This is an important book because although I’ve seen queer characters struggle with their sexuality because they’re in religious families, most of them at the end abandon the religion, and in some cases their entire religious community. Which isn’t to say that path is wrong– It’s just important to have stories about the kids who decide to go a different way. Although I think this is a book anyone would like, it’s an important book for queer teens growing up in Christian families, and the people who make up those families. Having gone through a situation like that myself, I found myself wishing I had this book four years ago so I could hand it to all my Christian friends.
A new era of Gay YA has come, that have queer characters that aren’t defined solely by their queerness. Caught in the Crossfire definitely falls into that camp. I don’t know how that’s possible, because Jonathan’s sexuality is sort of a huge part of the book, but somehow, he’s never defined solely or even predominately by his sexuality. Which was pretty cool, because like, as a queer teen, yes there is a lot I’m still exploring and some of my life is revolving around that, but not enough that it becomes all of who I am.
And aside from all of that, the story was beautifully written and highly enjoyable. Usually in first person POV, I begin to feel like I’m in the author’s head instead of the characters– that didn’t happen with this book. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best first person POV I’ve ever read. Jonathan’s voice never wavered. The other character’s voices were also extremely clear and consistent. Juliann somehow mastered the art of capturing distinctly different voices without bogging the dialogue down with speech tics: I found that I always knew who was speaking before I read the tag.
The plot clipped along at a nice pace and no part of it felt like it dragged or was rushed. The description Juliann used really made me feel like I was there, seeing all of it. The characters were lovable and realistic, and went on amazing journeys.
When I first picked up Caught in the Crossfire I honestly didn’t expect much from something so thin, but it took me places I did not expect. I read it in two days. I cried three times. And I would definitely recommend it. I can’t wait to read the sequel Searching for Grace when it comes out this September!
Book Review written by Victoria, co-webmistress of GayYA.org
Check out Juliann Rich’s guest post The Intersection of Art and Advocacy!