by Georgie Penney
Compared to my usual reading choices, this was the furthest out of my comfort zone that I’ve read in a long time, and I’m so glad that I decided to give it a go.
Pantomime starts as the tale of two apparently unlinked young people: the young would-be trapeze artist Micah Grey, and the noblewoman who calls herself Gene who’s about to be married off, should her parents get their way. These boy-girl dual storylines are increasingly common in YA so I assumed something along the lines of a love story, albeit an unusual one. But Laura Lam weaves her first surprise of many into the opening chapters, and we realise that Micah and Gene are the same person.
Micah is intersex, and this was exceptionally well demonstrated throughout the novel. The alternating stories got closer and closer to each other as the narrative continued. It also felt very natural to me: the fact that Micah is intersex didn’t stick out to me, and although it was obvious from things he said, it didn’t feel forced by the author. Instead, Micah’s character simply unfolded: rather than seeming like Laura Lam just fancied writing about an intersex character, Pantomime had the rare yet wonderful concept of a protagonist that has been discovered instead of being created. As someone who is cisgender, it still felt extremely relatable, which can sometimes put people off reading queer books but needn’t do so.
The story itself is gripping, getting more and more intense as it goes on and building to an almost explosive climax that is so unexpected I literally had my mouth open. (Sorry for the cliché. Sorry. I had to). Supporting characters are also very well drawn, and there is a love triangle that for once isn’t annoying and ridiculous and with a no-brainer decision at the centre of it. For my taste, the writing in the first couple of chapters was (for want of a better word) too dense, meaning that it took some pages before I felt fully absorbed in the story, but once I was past that point I was absolutely hooked to Micah’s story. And the worldbuilding was truly impeccable. Not all the details are explained, which can be frustrating (in a good way!) but makes for a much better story – rather than chunks of explanation, we have constant action and character development with a world being set up rather cleverly in the background.
I now have to mention the high point, which was the way I felt after I finished the book. It’s left me inspired: both in a literary sense, and also in a more abstract way – full of ideas and emotions and awareness of bigger issues that I hadn’t previously considered. Pantomime gets two thumbs up and I absolutely recommend that you give it a go if you’d like something to read that is challenging, intense and hugely enjoyable.
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).
Your fave is problematic; deal with it.
- I’m not here to bash authors or to tell you not to pick these books up. I’m just being honest about what I believe is not good LGBTQIA+ representation at all.
- Spoilers for WINGER.
- When I say queer I mean LGBTQIA+.
We have all been there. You hear about this AMAZING BOOK, everybody in the blogosphere/BookTube/Twitter is talking about it and giving it 5 stars left and right…so you decide you have to read it! And you do. You spend money on a book you feel is going to rock your socks off, you get comfy in your favorite reading spot, you have some snacks handy, and then you get down to the reading part. Except, the book sucks. Or, more accurately, is making you very very angry. Oh boy, wasn’t that a horrible decision?
It’s like being excited about a flight to a foreign country you have heard incredible things about. But then, when you actually get there: everything’s too expensive, the people are rude, you get food poisoning, and on your way back home the plane crashes…you were incredibly excited which somehow turned into being incredibly disappointed. And isn’t it worse when it happens with a book you picked solely because it of the ~QUEER REPRESENTATION~ you so badly need in your life and that’s exactly the part the book completely ruined?
That’s what happened to me when I picked up Winger by Andrew Smith (Simon & Schuster 2013). The book is VERY popular all over BookTube, which I frequent, and I decided to give it a try because it sounded interesting. Winger is not sold as a queer book at all; it’s a coming-of-age story of a white cishet boy in a boarding school, but every person who I saw recommending this book praised the fact that it had a gay character, and my brain thought, “Hey it must be an important part of the story if everyone keeps mentioning it, right?” Wrong. Well, sort of. There IS a gay secondary character, Joey, who becomes best friends with Ryan Dean, the protagonist, and that’s pretty much how far Joey’s story goes. He’s there to counsel and help Ryan Dean, while Ryan keeps reminding us that no matter how much they hang out HE’S SO NOT GAY OKAY, and to assure us that TWO DUDES HUGGING IS INCREDIBLY GAY BUT HE’S NOT GAY NOPE NOPE (just in case you forget he tells you every two pages or so, hahaha so funny!). Ryan is a 14-year-old boy, he’s immature, and we are reminded by him and others of this fact all the time. But that’s NOT the problem here. The problem is that by the end of the book we know almost nothing about Joey, who by then had turned into Ryan’s best friend, besides the fact that he’s gay. And in the last ten pages or so, to shock us, Joey is beaten to death in a hate crime. Are you going to tell me this is a story queer kids are supposed to be happy about? Are we supposed to be happy about a gay character who’s clearly just a prop in the story, that was simply put there to further the protagonist’s pain, and for this to be called representation? What message are you sending to queer people out there? Are we just here to make straight people feel better about themselves and then get beaten to death because that’s just the way the story ends? Because we don’t need or deserve happy endings, right?
LGBTQIA+ people are complex human beings who are more than their sexuality, and if your story does not get that across, then I’m sorry but why have queer people in there at all? (Or women for that matter, who in the case of this particular book are just other props in the story, only there to be liked and/or criticized by Ryan and the other boys.)
And this is not the only occasion where something like this has happened. I’ve found or been told about similar cases regarding other books, where a cishet character gets the front seat, telling the story about the queer character the book is supposed to be about (Luna by Julie Anne Peters and Shine by Lauren Myracle), and that’s where this turns problematic: queer voices are silenced while heterosexual voices are raised. The experience of a queer kid is told from the point of view of a straight character, who shares their “traumatic” experience, and it turns into how much this affects the “ally” instead of the actual person who’s going through this, and don’t we have enough of that in our daily lives?
You also have stories about sexuality where one orientation is respected and another is not (or maybe we should call it the case of the slutty, indecisive bisexual because god forbid your orientation is not seen as black or white). Examples of this: The Bermudez Triangle (Razorbill 2007) by Maureen Johnson, also called On the Count of Three (Penguin Young Readers Group 2013), and The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (Viking Children’s 2012).
While I’m sure these authors were not trying to be harmful with their books, the result was. And I for one am sick of the many amazing LGBTQIA+ stories out there being ignored, and the problematic ones praised. I know everything and everyone can be problematic or offensive one way or the other, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being critical about the media we consume. After all, representation matters, but shouldn’t it be accurate in the first place? In the words of Emily, we are not just a diversity checkbox.
And, if you are wondering about books that DO get minor queer characters right, you NEED to check out Georgie’s post. Books like that do exist, and it’s just as important to highlight those as it is to critique the ones that got it wrong.
So now I ask you: Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? Any other problematic faves you know of?
Nadia spends most of her day tweeting and daydreaming. Lover of books, comics, dogs and chinese food. Find her on twitter @heartless_tree
We interviewed Alaya Dawn Johnson author of The Summer Prince and Love is the Drug. Find the recorded interview here!
V: Hey everyone, I’m Victoria.
K: And I’m Kathleen. Today we have Alaya Dawn Johnson with us, author of our September book of the month, The Summer Prince. Alaya, thank you for joining us, all the way from Mexico City!
A: Thanks so much for having me.
K: The Summer Prince is a dystopian science fiction novel that takes place many years in the future.
V: We chose it for our September book of the month because it was incredibly well-written, took place in a futuristic world where no one had an assumed sexual orientation, and was polyamory-friendly. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was a very welcome addition. My full review is up on the site [LINK] if anyone wants to know more.
K: Alaya, our first question for you is, how did the idea for this book come to you?
A: Well, I have to say that my ideas tend to come from all sorts of directions, so I’d say probably the biggest influences–what I was trying to do, and what ended up becoming the novel–were…well, first, I had taken a trip to Brazil with my sister, who had studied there and learned Portuguese, and I went with my sister and my cousin when she was going to do some research in San Paulo, and basically, that trip was just one of these amazing, eye-opening experiences, I fell in love with Brazil, and I’d already learned a lot about Brazil before I went, but that, it just sort of solidified it for me.
It also kind of brought me to more conscious awareness of the African diaspora community within Brazil, the descendants of former slaves who had integrated in Brazilian society in ways that interested me so much just because of the parallels and the really stark differences I could see between how it had worked in the United States and how the African diaspora community worked in Brazil, because Brazil and the United States were, during the slave trade, two of the biggest importers of slaves and had two of the biggest populations of slaves–and, obviously, of their descendants.
So, how that society had moved past that point and how American society worked past that point were two things that really interested me.
I came back, I didn’t really think about it for a while, but meantime, I was writing other novels, and I was thinking about science fiction and how much I really wanted to write, like, this…super weird, trippy science fiction novel–like a social science fiction novel, kind of like the ones that Ursula Le Guin writes, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, which had a major impact on me.
And at some point this whole thing kind of came together, especially because I had been thinking about how oppressively white those futures were. Ursula Le Guin in Left Hand of Darkness 100 percent was playing around with ideas of gender, and she definitely was doing other interesting things with what we would now call diversity and trying to open up the whiteness of her world, but I kind of felt like aside from that example there wasn’t a lot going on, especially nowadays, especially with the boom of science fiction and what we’re calling dystopian fiction.
Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight. So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia. I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.
All these things are wandering around in my head, and then I was watching this program about futuristic building technology. [laughs] And for some reason this really interested me, because they were showing this amazing idea that a Japanese company had had for building…taking advantage, in that particular case, of the waves that come into Tokyo bay. You can have hydroelectric power, and you can have geothermal power, but you can also have wave power. So if you build generators that harness the power of waves crashing against a shore, you can actually power a lot of things with that, and I don’t think that there’s much happening right now in that way, but it’s a thing that this company had thought of, and so they constructed this giant pyramid that was a city, but it was kind of vertical, and so all these skyscrapers hung from the vertices of all these, like, mini-pyramids, and there were these parks, and so obviously you can see, this is exactly where Palmares Tres came from, and I just like, my whole brain exploded when I was reading about that, and all of those things came together until I had the first, first kernel of the book, and of course the book is doing all sorts of other things, too, so it’s not…that doesn’t even really come to it, but that’s kind of like the three main things that were kickin’ around in my head when I was coming up with the idea.
by Simren Handa
In My Date From Hell, book two in the Blooming Goddess Trilogy, Tellulah Darling has crafted a perfectly imaginative and witty novel filled with quirky, interesting characters which appeal wonderfully to the YA market. I laughed numerous times at some of the lively one liners and, overall, thoroughly enjoyed reading about Sophie, Kai, Festos, Theo, Hannah and Pierce. Each character was distinctive in their appeal and as a protagonist, I thought that Sophie was believably vulnerable; a sixteen year old with issues and complications, plenty of snark and feisty charm, battling through the trials of growing up in la la land with her friends. And while Sophie and Kai’s romance is the pivotal one (not exaggerating– Sophie and Kai’s romance is literally a main focus to the plot), this is GayYA. I’m going to focus on Festos and Theo who provide a running side romance that is equally, if not more, beautiful, complicated and fun to read about.
Tellulah Darling, as a writer, does not fail to disappoint with Theo and Festos’ characters; similar in their pedantic technicalities over Greek names, different in practically every other way and rich in background plot that touches on the theme of a rather painful betrayal on Festos’ part featuring a liver, a vulture and an apologetically bashful Festos. This couple grabbed me and kept me on their ride. Theo’s character: driven, rather moody and insouciant, complimented Festos and his bright, openly fabulous persona. Darling kept her readers on the edge with constant plot twists, sudden, exciting cliffhangers and choppy sentences that kept the pace of the story fairly fast. It worked hand in hand with her explosive romance-driven story-line; where Theo was initially unforgiving of his red haired former lover, it doesn’t take long for him to warm up to Festos and their love story to develop rapidly.
The reader doesn’t have a huge amount of time to investigate the nuances of Theo and Festos’ tumultuous romance, which was a slight let down. Anything that we read is through Sophie’s eyes alone as the book is in first person, however, the rather biased account is in the couple’s favour; as Sophie roots for the two to get together, the reader is drawn in to the energetic, vibrancy of the author’s writing and begins to get drawn into the fast-paced plot.
As a compliment to the story, A Date of Godlike Proportions, is a novella which precedes My Date from Hell, and is perfect for those who want to zoom in a little bit on Theo and Festos, their gorgeous, dysfunctionally perfect relationship. The short, sweet story tells the tale of Theo’s guilt, the reason behind his self-deprecating tightness and gives the relationship more vulnerability and a deeper, more meaningful reason to enjoy the two gods. I would recommend reading it after book one and two.
Tellulah Darling has sparks of talent that run through her story, creating characters that I genuinely began to care for. Even antagonistic characters such as Bethany and Jack had dimensions to them that is difficult for an author to pull off, it surprised me, somewhat, that such a rapid, action based, intensely plot-driven book had the time or the effort to pull off characters that had so much depth and variety in terms of emotions and backgrounds. Of course, the story is not perfect; the book had some excusable typos which detracted me from the plot and made me backtrack slightly, but typos are alright when you’re reading a book as riveting and entertaining as this one. As a writer myself, I find typos annoying but able to look over. And while I hate comparisons, I’ll make a positive one: this book really reminded me of a more adult, less intricately developed Percy Jackson with the Greek theme and the unique, interesting and imaginative take on the idea of Greek gods. I will definitely be reading the last book.
How can I not after that cliffhanger?
Find out more about Tellulah Darling and her books here.
Simren is an 18 year old student with a passion for reading and a glutton for romance, adventure and wit. She writes as much as possible in her free time, be it journalism, fiction or reviews.
Find her on twitter @Simren2105, or drop a comment down below.
In the summer of 1986, Billy Collins is sent to his own personal Hell – summer camp. The remote Camp Genesis offers desperate parents a place to “straighten” out their gay teenagers with the help of the puritanical Katherine Creevey.
Besides the typical horsing around, campfire tales and summer games, the Genesis program forces gay and questioning teens into humiliating gender-based lessons. While Billy wants nothing more than to escape Camp Genesis, he can’t help worrying that something even more sinister is hiding just out of sight.
Unknown to Billy, two campers were murdered three years ago. Just days after Billy and the new campers arrive, people start to go missing, and it’s up to Billy and his new friend Jem to find out what’s really going on. Is a maniac on the loose? Is history repeating itself? One thing’s for sure – at Camp Genesis, you have to fight to survive…
Camp Carnage by Elliot Arthur Cross and Joshua Winning starts out with a prologue, which is no problem, especially since it demonstrates the dark and bloody history of the camp. Prologues can occasionally take away from the story but in this book, it enhances it.
We then greet our young hero, William “Billy” Collins, as he is arriving at the Genesis camp with his father, is unceremoniously dropped off, and alone. He soon meets Jemima, “Jem”, and they begin to form a friendship over their shared misery of being sent to Camp Genesis due to their sexuality and being subjected to a program to “fix” them.
This book utilized a lot of the 1980’s horror movie tropes, even being set in 1986. There was enough blood to bathe in, especially in the later chapters. The villain was sufficiently psychotic but hid it well in the beginning. And you even have the typical horror movie trope characters: the jerk, the jock, the nerd, the punk, the one black guy, the slut, and the fat kid. And, of course, all of those who get murdered each find a way to get stalked and slaughtered while alone by the killer, up to the final bloodbath where the killer is more openly pursuing the campers. However, the writers did not follow some of the core horror movie tropes and that took away from the feel of the 1980’s slasher movies that some of us know and love.
The flow of the scenes and chapter to chapter went fairly well. The book was written in close third person. I did get thrown off when, a few chapters in, I began a new chapter and I was not reading from Billy or Jem’s standpoint but an entirely new character that hadn’t even been introduced yet. Judging by the plot summary used in advertising this book, I believed that I was going to follow along from only Billy and Jem’s point of view. Knowing that, the rest of the book didn’t throw me off again and the changing point of view between several of the characters enhanced the story, especially the last several chapters with the rapid sequence of events that were taking place.
The plot summary of Camp Carnage states that “puritanical Katherine Creevy” runs the camp. Given that, there should have been a lot more discussions about God and praying, by the priest, and by Katherine Creevy, but there is little to no mention at all of the Bible, God, and prayer. In the very least, they should have started every activity by praying for their immortal souls because this is what these camps were about in the 1980s. I do not approve of such things at all but I expected to read about it in the book because that is the kind of place that these camps were-you got the Bible shoved down your throat until you screamed for mercy and claimed that you were “straightened”.
The book gives a lot of 1980’s pop culture references to demonstrate the times. There is a problem with using this era and utilizing those references is that there will be some young adults reading in the Young Adult genre that just won’t understand those references. A lot of young adults don’t even know what a record player is. Depending on the reader, it may be distracting when the book mentions things that make the reader confused. However, the slang usage was totally wicked. And that is something that most people can follow because a lot of it has carried over.
Overall, the book was well thought-out and mimicked the 1980’s slasher films fairly well. The murder scenes were well played and full of blood and most of the writing was engaging, except for the unexpected initial point of view change and a couple of other minor errors that another proofreading may have caught.
Find our more about Night Terrors books here!
Rae Glenn loves reading so much that it has become a physical need. Supporting the LGBT youth has become as important to her as breathing. It is only natural for these to come together. You can find her @LovelyRedMuffin.
GayYA is thrilled to welcome one of our new regular contributors Nathaniel Harrington!
I’m going to do my best to keep this spoiler-free, which means avoiding talking about the main plot. Briefly, it’s really good. The action is engaging, the villains are excellent, and the resolution is satisfying and still has real, long-term consequences for the main characters. Tracey balances the main plot with fantastic characterization, and that’s really what I want to talk most about here.
First, let’s talk about the handling of Braden’s sexuality. A lot of LGBTQ YA is concerned either with the complexities of coming out (and, relatedly, telling someone you like them when you don’t know how they’ll respond to your sexuality) or with elevating queer romance—proving that “love is love”, regardless of the genders of the people involved, and that a romance between two guys or two girls can be just as compelling and “universally” meaningful as a straight romance. Many books do some combination of these two things.
The Witch Eyes series does neither, and I love it.
Instead, Braden’s sexuality is essentially unremarkable: as Dennis Upkins noted in his review back in 2011, “Witch Eyes could’ve easily have worked with Braden being a heterosexual”. This isn’t to say that Braden’s sexuality isn’t important, but rather that Braden’s sexuality is basically never a source of anxiety for him. Once, in Witch Eyes, he’s briefly concerned that Trey might be straight, but that lasts for about two sentences. There’s no is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay/bi with Trey, just as a character in a straight YA novel would never spend chapters angsting about whether or not their crush was straight.
Braden’s sexuality is also unapologetic in a way that spoke to me deeply. His first impression of Trey:
The guy on the bus had been all dark-eyed smolder and danger, but Trey was more like marble and gold woven together. Under the streetlight, his dirty blond hair started to shimmer; he was tall, and moved like someone with all the confidence in the world. Even his face was taut with cheekbones, hard lines, and angles. Sadly, I was a sucker for geometry.
Later, when Trey takes him out for dinner:
I needed to stop focusing on the way cheese slid around the curve of his lips, or the way his eyes twinkled when he thought he was being cute. Not to mention the way veins sprang to life in his hands when he moved too suddenly, straining against the skin. Strong hands.
I am often 100% exactly this shallow, and to see that aspect of my sexuality represented in a book was just…refreshing. I love David Levithan’s writing, but I don’t always need to be elevated or to grapple with questions of identity. In this moment, it’s not about Braden’s romantic interest in Trey and the universality of love, it’s about Braden getting distracted because Trey’s really attractive.
Braden’s anxieties about his sexuality revolve around his youth and inexperience (coming from a background as a homeschooled kid living in rural Montana to a medium-sized coastal city where he attends a school for the first time), rather than the fact of his being gay:
It wasn’t the first time I’d thought about sex, or more specifically sex with Trey. But the problem wasn’t so much about whether or not I wanted to have sex with Trey. I was more concerned with not wanting to have sex with Trey and have it be bad. I mean, he was most likely not a virgin. He’d done this before. And he’d know in an instant that I couldn’t say the same.
Braden feels honest and real to me in a way that a lot of prototypically “teenage” YA protagonists (LGBTQ or otherwise) don’t quite. This extends to other aspects of his character, too, from his sarcasm to his description of seasickness in the middle of Phantom Eyes:
I lowered my head down to my knees and spent the next forty minutes breathing slowly and surely, forcing myself to keep everything in my stomach where it belonged. It was a slow battle, and for some reason when the ferry docked on the other side of the bay, I felt like it was the best kind of victory. I was immeasurably proud of myself all for doing nothing more than keeping myself from throwing up.
As someone who gets badly carsick, I know that feeling all too well.
Basically everything about Braden resonated with some part of my experience, from his sexuality to his motion sickness to his struggle with the winter voice in Demon Eyes. He’s self-deprecating and sarcastic, and his narrative voice is a delight. There’s some comedy gold in these books, and most of it comes from Braden. (One choice moment: “The kiss started out incredibly gentle, just a random meeting of lips in the night.” Amazing.)
There are many other great things about the books, including the treatment of trauma in the second book, the complex parent-child relationships throughout the trilogy, and that one villain’s long-term contingency plan is specifically foiled by Braden being gay. I’ve seen several people describe the books as a Romeo and Juliet story, but I think that does the series a disservice: the Thorpe-Lansing feud is far better developed than the Montague-Capulet feud, and Braden and Trey’s relationship is more compelling than any version of Romeo and Juliet’s that I’ve ever seen outside of Private Romeo (which is, coincidentally(?), a gay teen adaptation of the play).
One final note: as someone who is picky about the portrayal of dreams and such in fiction, I thought Braden’s visions were very well writte
n; they captured the chaos and apparent incoherency while still giving pieces of interpretable information. I appreciated them for their atmosphere when I first read the series, and on rereading it, I can see how they add to the plot and characterization, as well—just little hints, but tantalizing ones.
Hopefully this rambling post has conveyed some of my appreciation for this series and will convince you to go read it; they really are excellent books.
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.
Asexual Awareness Week begins on the 26th! We’re looking for asexual guest bloggers to talk about asexuality in YA, or something related to it. You can talk about your own experience, a book with an ace character that you love, how authors can represent asexuality better, or anything else that you’ve come up with! We’re really open to anything, provided it is in some way related to YA.
We’d like to get things planned out by the 22nd so everything can be written, edited, and posted on schedule– if you want to toss your hat in the ring, get in touch by Tuesday the 21st.
If you’re interested, please email email@example.com with a bit about yourself and what you’d want to talk about. Please only send something in if you identify somewhere on the asexual spectrum.
We’re thrilled to welcome one of our new regular contributors, Karina Rose!
If you’ve heard of the internet, or magazines, or television, or know a lonely female, then you’ve heard at least something about Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fanfic turned best-selling novel that sold over 100 million copies, despite the fact that it is poorly written, misrepresents an entire subculture, enables suffering amongst female readers, and, I cannot emphasize this enough, is based off of Twilight fanfiction. I wish I were joking. The book itself has been called “a joke”. But I think it’s a joke that has been taken far too seriously. And I don’t mean the movie deal, I don’t mean the massive response/attention from the media, I don’t mean the SNL parodies or hours of collective news coverage of the film casting, and I don’t mean your coworker manically crying because of Christian Grey’s tragic past and undying lust for little Anastasia Steele. I mean the fact that now the literary world is slowly entering a Post-Fifty-Shades era.
Remember after Twilight came out and the YA world was suddenly shoving vampires everywhere they could and printing paranormal romances like no tomorrow? Remember the girls asking boys to bite them to be claimed as property? Remember when they ate their own blood!? Because they did. This actually happened. Undeniably, the YA world has a huge effect on pop culture and pop culture has a huge effect on impressionable YA audiences. Now we are no longer Post-Twilight; we are Post-Twilight-Fanfiction, with the trend of publishing popular online fanfictions to become best-selling series really taking off. The success of Fifty Shades has certainly increased the public’s and the publishing world’s interest in fanfiction, and soon former fanfics will be the new paranormal romances. We won’t be able to escape. And is this a good thing?
Certainly there are some astonishingly good fanfics. Some really well-written ones. Some with really diverse LGBT relationships. This should mean we will be seeing these on shelves soon too, right? But not yet. Right now, we get The After Series, which is being published in three volumes by Simon and Schuster and already has a movie deal booked for the not-too-distant future.
The After Series is summed up on Amazon as being about a girl who goes to college and meets a boy who is, and this is absolutely true, “rude—to the point of cruelty…” and whom the narrator should and does hate. That’s until, of course, “she finds herself alone with him in his room….” and “something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before.”
I know it’s not Fifty Shades exactly, but there’s a definite reitteration of themes going on here. And worse, this is targeted specifically at YA audiences. Like, the Y’est of A’s out there: One Direction fans. After is by Anna Todd, a celebrity among One Direction fans for her RPF (or, “real person fiction”) One Direction fanfiction. Like Fifty Shades, After is also a series, meaning there’s more adorable abuse to come. And if we keep naming these angsty, borderline abusive novels as cultural phenomenons, it’s not long before we are enabling horrible examples of “romance” to YA audiences. Fifty Shades and After fans most likely won’t be sucking blood or doing… whatever this is, but they will be reading, and seeing the films. And if these fans are hailing them as ideal, swoon-worthy love stories, these abusive relationships will be the new bloodsucking.
I know what you’re thinking: Where’s the gay in this? I know, I am too. It is very sad that I haven’t brought that up yet, I am aware. And here is what I’m saying:
There are hundreds, thousands, of amazing fanfiction works online. I’m not a huge reader of fanfiction but every one that I have read has been about a same sex couple in a healthy, non-abusive relationship that is well written, has a plausible yet addicting plot, and overall is a good read. These are not the ones being chosen by publishers and I don’t know why. One of the most talked about LGBT fanfiction works is Twist and Shout  . It is a Supernatural-inspired fanfiction with a huge fanbase. I attended a Supernatural convention this year where the mere unintentional reference to the fic by a cast member caused the whole room to erupt into (healthy) fandemonium rapture. We didn’t try to do this. And those who have yet to read the fic, or didn’t particularly enjoy it, didn’t get treated like, you know, this.
Twist and Shout does wonders exploring the risks gays took for love in the times of the Vietnam War, all the way to the heartache suffered by so many at the peak of the AIDS virus. It covers a wide range of issues, from homophobia in religion to homophobia in sports. It even goes as far as addressing addiction and mental illnesses. Bottom line, it’s more than just an amazing love story and more than just a gay love story. And… not gonna lie, it’s pretty hot without having to add aggressive tension or take away consensuality, or use phrases like, “I’d really like to claim your ass.”
Non-Supernatural fans to whom I’ve recommended Twist and Shout have loved it, and now get emotional whenever they hear Elvis (Yes, it will get you even then). It is now self-published, doing amazing in the reviews on Goodreads, and is promoting tolerance and healthy relationships while exploring themes rarely dealt with and handling them with care. And if you compare the After Goodreads reviews to those of Twist and Shout, it is mind-blowing when you think about which one is actually making its way in the media world right now. For non-straight readers, Twist and Shout is a massive comfort, aiding YA readers to not feel alone or ashamed because of hom they love. For straight readers it shows how real and powerful non-hetero relationships really are. And it is just sitting there. Waiting for Vintage Books, Simon and Schuster, anyone.
And it’s not like no one is talking about this book; it has its own fansite AND a support group for Castiel’s sake! Look up Twist and Shout on Tumblr. Those people have seen pain, they know struggle, but they will all recommend you read it in a heartbeat. God, and you thought The Fault In Our Stars was painful. Oh, just you wait…. The only thing worse than “Okay” is “I can dig Elvis.”
Twist and Shout may be one of the rare, incredible pieces out there in the world of fanfiction, but it is not a minority in the case of it being an LGBT piece. A vast majority of popular fanfiction follows the story of a same-sex or non-heterosexual couple. And so many of them are better than After and Fifty Shades. But Twist and Shout is still a minority in the world of fanfiction that actually receives huge book/film deals. And it’s not because it is poorly written. It’s not because it’s unpopular. It’s not because it’s offensive or wildly pornographic. It has to be something else. And it sucks to think of what it probably is.
There is no denying that the internet is giving a platform to great writers who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Fanfiction is adding new voices to the literary world, diversifying how we read, and probably providing J.J. Abrams with infinite material for his next Star Trek reboot. But with all that has happened with domestic violence lately on the news, do we really need more stories glorifying it when there are clearly much better options that are just as popular? With all that’s happened with progress the LGBT community has made with tolerance, why aren’t we seeing it reflected in the media? That’s what I’m trying to say: When it comes to fanfiction becoming a credible source for publishers to find the next big YA cultural phenomenon, why the angst? Where’s the gay?
Karina Rose and her ya/gay/nerdpunk novels are currently trying their luck in the publishing world. In the meantime, she hopes she is funny on twitter as @karinarosewhite, creepy on Tumblr as TheNightValePost, and as cool as she thinks in real life (Where, let’s be honest, she’s really not and probably just writing some more). She’s from a small beach town in Orange County, California which is why she’s so liberal and so broke.
Looking for a good Halloween read? Fed up with the excessive cishetero-ness of most book lists? We’ve got you covered!
To start you off, here are some realistic mystery/thriller novels with gay, bi, lesbian, and trans protagonists:
Dark Tide by Greg Herren (Bold Strokes Books, 2014)
For Ricky Hackworth, a summer job to save money before he leaves for college is a necessity. When he lands a job as a lifeguard at the Mermaid Inn in Latona, Alabama, on the beautiful Gulf Coast, it’s like a dream come true. But once he moves into the Inn, he starts hearing stories about the lifeguard from the previous summer…and how he vanished without a trace right in the middle of the summer. Before long, Ricky realizes the Inn and the town are hiding some dark secrets…secrets someone is willing to kill to protect, and Ricky has to find out the truth before he, too, vanishes without a trace.
The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn Klehr (Flux, 2013)
Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.
Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.
Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.
Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books, 2014)
Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky.
Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth.
Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.
Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney Hyperion, 2014)
That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.
Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer – but can she track them down before they come for her?
Maybe a gay ghost story is more your speed? Or a short story collection led entirely by lesbian girls? Perhaps you’re looking for a bi side character? From ace side characters to gay main characters, we’ve got you covered. Here are all your creepy, queer, paranormal Halloween reads:
Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman (Harrington Park Press, 2007; Lethe Press, 2008)
In a small New Jersey town a lonely boy walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With a cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love.
A finalist for the Andre Norton Award for best speculative fiction young adult novel.
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House Books, 2012)
Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.
But all that changes when the Lynburns return.
The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?
Hollow Pike by James Dawson (Orion Children’s Books, 2012)
Something wicked this way comes…
She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps… Hollow Pike – where witchcraft never sleeps.
The Dark Woods: A Lesbian YA Short Story Collection by Sarah Diemer and Jennifer Diemer
THE DARK WOODS is a bewitching collection of young adult short stories, ranging from science fiction and fantasy to paranormal, all featuring a lesbian heroine. This collection is part of Project Unicorn, a fiction project that seeks to address the near nonexistence of lesbian main characters in young adult fiction by giving them their own stories.
This collection contains:
- Witch Girls (Dark Fantasy)
The wild witch girls lurk at the edge of the woods, waiting to snatch away any girl who’s less than good. Gran’s warnings are the same every day: be good, or the witch girls will take you. But what if you want to be taken?
- Surfacing (Fantasy)
When Alice’s brother John takes a mermaid out of the sea and drags her into the woods to die, Alice must find the courage to stand up to the worst bully she’s ever known in order to save a life.
- Curse Cabin Confession (Paranormal)
When Robin invites her girlfriend, Malinda, up to her family cabin for the weekend, it’s not just for a romantic time. Robin has a confession to make: she’s not exactly human.
- Wolves of Leaving (Paranormal)
After challenging the Alpha–and losing–Cadie begs the girl she loves to forsake all they’ve ever known and escape the tyranny of the pack.
- Devil May Care (Paranormal)
When Corrine is forced to summon a demon to find a missing loved one, the afternoon turns stranger than expected.
- A Craving (Fantasy)
Snow knows little of the world, having spent most of her life within the safe confines of the cottage she shares with seven little men, her protectors. But every day, a young girl comes to the door, offering her an apple, and every day brings Snow one step closer to taking a bite.
- Natural (Paranormal)
Terra feels confused and alone–until she meets a mysterious girl in the forest, standing next to her favorite tree…
- Haunt (Paranormal)
Every moonrise, Tam and Ailsa defy the laws of time and space to meet in the forest and kiss beneath the stars.
- Dreaming Green (Science Fiction)
Mirelle catches a mysterious seed during a spacewalk, and, though it is forbidden, she dares to plant it, nurture it, and let it grow.
- Mirrors (Fantasy)
Bewitched by an old compact in an antique store window, Maisy is startled to realize that the reflection in the mirror is not her own.
The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight by Jeff Jacobson
Closeted high school sophomore Charlie Creevey and his mother Elizabeth live in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Foothills, where they tend to their fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, generally keeping to themselves. That is, until one afternoon in late August, when a German shepherd crashes through their living room window and demands that the boy be handed over.
Barely escaping with their lives, mother and son flee California and head to Seattle, where Charlie discovers the secret Elizabeth has been keeping from him his entire life: that he hails from a family of witches, and will soon be initiated into the craft.
Charlie moves in with an aunt and an uncle he barely knows, then has to adjust to a new school and a new life. Soon after, the coven strikes again, barely failing to capture him.
At the same time, Charlie tries to deny that his feelings for popular high school junior Diego Ramirez have become something more than friendship. He learns the hard way that ignoring what his heart wants obstructs his development as a witch, making him defenseless against Grace and her growing threat.
Will Charlie refuse to accept who he is, or will he acknowledge the truth, in order to stay alive and protect the people he loves?
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
I opened my mouth, just as he added, “And your eyes are opening.”Seventeen-year-old Ellie Spencer is just like any other teenager at her boarding school. She hangs out with her best friend Kevin, she obsesses over Mark, a cute and mysterious bad boy, and her biggest worry is her paper deadline. But then everything changes. The news headlines are all abuzz about a local string of serial killings that all share the same morbid trademark: the victims were discovered with their eyes missing. Then a beautiful yet eerie woman enters Ellie’s circle of friends and develops an unhealthy fascination with Kevin, and a crazed old man grabs Ellie in a public square and shoves a tattered Bible into her hands, exclaiming, “You need it. It will save your soul.” Soon, Ellie finds herself plunged into a haunting world of vengeful fairies, Maori mythology, romance, betrayal, and an epic battle for immortality.
Out of the Depths by Hayden Thorne
It has been a year since Konstancji’s lover passed away, but rather than move on with his life, Konstancji hires one young man after another to sit for him as he obsessively works on a statue. What’s apparent is the fact that each sitter dies and is replaced with a new one, his grieving family compensated generously.
What no one’s aware of, though, is the purpose of the statue, which is the means through which Konstancji hopes to bring his beloved back from the dead.
Have a favorite queer YA Halloween read that we missed? Drop it in the comments below!
Reviewer: Leslie Rewis
Unicorn Hunting by A.R. Hellbender was a very surprising read. Most of the YA fiction that I have read about queer characters tends to focus more on their coming out and what ensues because of it. If you are looking for a story with a queer character that has a plot line not revolving around coming out, Unicorn Hunting is a good place to start. This is the perfect book for a book lover of fantasy, action, and of course, non-straight crushes.
The protagonist, Caoilinn “Cal” Valderan, is a unicorn hunter. She is hunting in order to provide for her family. She is joined by her best friend, Sura; her crush, Adryan; and her would-be enemy, Delphina.
Cal and her friends soon find out that there is more to learn about unicorn hunting than what their instructors tell them. Without giving too much away, the unicorns reproduce rather strangely.
The story also revolves around a moral dilemma. Why do the girls have to kill the unicorns? Cal is faced with deciding whether killing unicorns is truly the right thing to do. On top of her new job, she also has to worry about Adryan falling for someone else and Delphina kicking her butt.
Essentially, Cal is making a decision to stand against everything she have been taught in society, and that is never easy.
Unicorn Hunting has enough surprising twists and turns to keep the best of readers busy. From one moment to another, Cal can either be slaying unicorns or questioning her feelings for Adryan or exploring new feelings altogether. Cal captured my heart within a few chapters. She is not a perfect character and I do not want her to be. She and all the other main characters of focus are human and easy to relate to.
Overall, Unicorn Hunting is a winner. For anyone out there wanting to see queer representation in books, this is a start in the right direction. Cal clearly has feelings for another girl, but her feelings are not the central arc of the story. Rather, her own moral journey and taking a stand have a higher rank in the story line. For those looking for a kiss or two, you won’t find that much in this story. However, this adds to the story line, rather than retracting from it.
If you are looking for an unconventional queer story, action scenes, and unicorns… well this is the only book I know of that does all of that – and more. My only complaint is that I was looking for more at the end. However, all the best stories leave the reader feeling just like that.
Leslie Rewis is an English major from Alabama. When she is not reading and working on school work, you can find her procrastinating on Tumblr at thetypicallytwisted.tumblr.com and on Twitter @lemur1993. She hopes to begin working on a doctorate in English after graduation and publish some queer stories.