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LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Literature

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Don’t Judge A Book By Its Description

by Zac Brewer

I have to admit, I may have squealed a little when I read the email inviting me to write a piece for Gay YA. It’s an honor to be included, to feel like my voice matters, on the subject of being queer. Growing up, there wasn’t really any YA to speak of (this was the 70s/80s—yeah, I KNOW THAT WAS A MILLION YEARS AGO, OKAY?—so we pretty much had Judy Blume and then went straight into adult fiction), and there certainly wasn’t, at least within my grasp, any queer fiction available. If there had been, maybe I would have come to understand my gender identity & sexual orientation a bit sooner. If there had been…well, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone and misunderstood. But now we live in an age where YA is everywhere you look, and the amount of LGBT+ fiction available is growing a bit more every day.

(Side note: we now also have this cool thing called the internet, and phones are no longer attached to walls by curly chords long enough to entangle you for days if you weren’t careful. Don’t judge me.)

I could make many recommendations of books to read that are queer-focused, but I’d like to share with you my top five favorites (because there is also still this thing called “the outside” and I firmly believe you should go there, because it’s awesome—take a book). But before I tell you what books I think you should read, I want to tell you this: the authors of these books are incredible people. Each of them is kind, understanding, open-minded, and wonderful. I highly recommend all of their works, and suggest that you reach out to them online. Because they are way, way cooler than I am…and I’m pretty damn cool (apart from my issues with having grown up in the 70’s/80’s, that is).

Now. On to the books (in no particular order).

ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King

PROXY by Alex London

STICK by Andrew Smith

MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

When I initially started writing this piece, I’d included descriptions of each, but have since deleted those descriptions. Because you shouldn’t read a book (or not) because it suits your identity or orientation. You should read them because they’re excellent books…which these are. So. Just trust me. Pick any one of them. And fall in love, the way that I have with each.

Also…be thankful you’re growing up now, in a time of change and growing acceptance…and cell phones.

ZacglassesZac Brewer doesn’t believe in happy endings . . . unless they involve blood. Sometimes he writes books about such things. You might have read them. He lives in Missouri with his husband and two children. Visit Zac at www.zacbrewer.com.

By | June 25th, 2016|Categories: Author Guest Blog, Blogathon 2016|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

LGBTQIA+ Books and Libraries: Helping Queer Kids Find the Stories They Need

by Amanda MacGregor

I’ve worked in the book field for 16 years. I’ve worked as the children’s lead bookseller at Barnes & Noble; at The Children’s Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Brookline, Massachusetts; as a children’s librarian; in a high school library; and as a librarian in a public library. I’ve been reviewing YA books professionally for almost as long (and my list of places I’ve worked for is nearly as long—The Horn Book, SLJ, VOYA, the long-defunct KLIATT, & Children’s Literature). I recently left my library gig, as we’re moving, but while there also spent 4 years running a young adult book club. You can also find me at Teen Librarian Toolbox where I mainly write reviews, focusing heavily on LGBTQIA+ YA books.

So why tell you all that? Because in all of those jobs, over all of those years, one of my main objectives has been to promote LGBTQIA+ YA books and help them get into the hands of all teens, but especially teens who really need them. Whether that meant requesting them as a reviewer, displaying them, booktalking them, including them on reading lists, being seen reading them, or choosing to highlight them, making them visible and emphasizing their importance has always been my goal. I talked about this a little in the May 2014 School Library Journal article, “LGBTQ & You: How to Support Your Students.” I wanted to elaborate a little bit on some of the ways librarians (and booksellers and teachers) can help these books reach queer kids and what else supporting teenagers means.

Some ways you can highlight LGBTQIA+ YA books are:

Booktalks: At the high school, I did booktalks once a semester for the language arts classes. I made sure to include titles that represented many groups and specifically would say, “This book has a gay main character.” I would tell the classes that books with queer characters were one of my main areas of interest and that it was important to support queer kids. I also often reminded kids that I was there to make sure they were reading, not judge what they were reading.

5331838352_cd8cab641e_bDisplays: Many of my displays were for LGBTQIA+ specific days/months, like LGBT History Month, or National Coming Out Day. In addition to signage that clearly indicated what the display was for, I would include reading lists that kids could take and would leave them out by the computer that was available for them to search the catalog, so they could grab them in semi-privacy if they needed to. I listed resources at the bottom of those lists, like help lines or a reminder that the school had a GSA. I would also put some part of the display on the desk where I worked—maybe statistics, or a featured book, or more information. I spent a lot of my days with kids draped all over my desk, just hanging out, and wanted to put materials in front of as many eyes as I could. In addition to creating displays or reading lists specific to LGBTQIA+ events or content, I also made sure all displays always included books with queer kids, whether it was a display featuring new books, or just the books that sat on top of the shelves, or a display about romances, or supernatural stories, or whatever. I wanted to be specific and pointed—making it clear that I was highlighting LGBTQIA+ books and understood their importance—as well as just integrate those books into all other displays and not drag them out for only “special” displays or only show their importance occasionally.

Reading lists: While at the high school, I made a collection of 12 binders with reading lists in them. They were arranged by genre or theme—science fiction, multicultural, sports, etc.—and updated continually. They featured the title, book cover, summary, and call number. I also put sheets at the end with just titles and authors so kids could grab them to keep. I did have one binder specific to LGBTQIA+ YA, but of course made sure all of those same titles were also folded into the other binders’ reading lists, too. For the most part, after time, the students got comfortable asking me for recommendations, but I wanted to make sure there were plenty of resources for students who didn’t want to come up and ask for help.

Be seen reading LGBTQIA+ YA: I didn’t get a lot of time to read at the desk, but when I did, I tried to make a point with what I was reading. I’d read books with Muslim characters on the cover hoping the Somali kids would see this and discover the books and/or want to talk. I’d read books about queer kids hoping teenagers remembered I’d booktalked it or recognized the title/author enough to know the content. And I’d read Ellen Hopkins books hoping kids would see that I liked those books too and that it was okay to check them out from me instead of constantly stealing them. I also tried to bring up what I was reading while checking out books to a kid, especially if I knew that that particular kid maybe could benefit from knowing about the book.

Some other things you could do: You can connect with your school’s gay-straight alliance—maybe go in and do some booktalks, or partner with them for some displays, or even just have their advisor know that you’re supportive and a good resource. You can remember to recommend LGBTQIA+ YA titles no matter what the request is; that’s to say, sure you’ll recommend them if someone comes in specifically looking for one of those books, but remember if they want a sports story or a romance or a fantasy story to grab books with LGBTQIA+ characters, too. You can make sure your collection includes as many books with queer characters as possible. Despite a huge increase in numbers, there still aren’t a ton of books with queer characters, so be sure to be aware of what’s available and order it in. You can post the results of GLSEN’s School Climate Survey where kids can read it. You can make sure you call out kids who toss around hateful terms while in the library (or your classroom etc.). Do teachers in your school have Safe Space stickers up on their doors? Make sure they know you’re working to support these kids from the library side of things. Also, remember that kids talk. They’ll share these books with others who need them. They’ll pass along the word that you’re an ally, that you know how to help them find the stories they may be seeking.

What else can you do? Educate yourself. Listen. Learn. Be aware of the messages the stories send—is your LGBTQIA+ collection outdated and full of tragedies? Learn the correct language. Pay attention to your students’ preferred names and pronouns and respect that. Also, spend a little time thinking about what you’ll want to say in various scenarios. If you make it clear that you’re an ally, if you start to make connections with kids, your conversations WILL go beyond talking about books. I’ve had kids come out to me before they told anyone else. I’ve had kids tell me they came out to their parents and were told they would go to hell. Or were kicked out. Or told me they were miserable and suicidal. On the flip side, I had kids who would come running in to tell me about finally kissing a girl, or about their parents being totally cool and supportive, or about taking part in Pride events. Some of those conversations are more sensitive than others. Some of those conversations may be the very first time a kid is saying some of these words aloud. What you say matters. How you react matters. Those of us who work with teenagers know that our jobs go beyond what you might expect out of a teacher or a librarian. So knowing what books are out there is important, and doing everything you can to make sure those books are available to kids who need them is important, and showing teenagers that you see them, respect them, and care about them is so important. There are so many small ways we can make libraries safe spaces and provide access to these LGBTQIA+ books, and those small ways can have a big impact.

IMG_7830Amanda MacGregor spends all of her time thinking about, talking about, and writing about YA books as a reviewer, librarian, and blogger at Teen Librarian Toolbox. She lives just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota. Find her on Twitter @CiteSomething.
By | June 24th, 2016|Categories: Archive, Blogathon 2016, Guest Blogs, Teachers & Librarians|Tags: |0 Comments

What My Queer YA Means To Me

by Erin Bow 

I will be honest. I didn’t set out to write a book in which girls kiss each other.

As a novelist, I’m not much of a planner. Even the few things I do have planned don’t always work out, and that was certainly the case with my 2015 book, The Scorpion Rules. I came to it with some original equipment, some seeds from the writing gods: the character of my narrator, Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax, Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, came to me with her smarts and braids and stoicism fully formed. I also had the premise given to me: the idea that a future world would resort to keeping the peace by taking the children of the world’s leaders hostage, to be executed if their countries went to war. Even the Precepture, the abandoned monastery turned goat-farm-run-by-robots where the hostages are kept, came to me as a seed.

As I usually do, I planted those seeds and farted around while seeing what would grow.

Now, because I do read YA, and because I’m not stupid, I thought I knew what would grow. I mean, we all know the general shape of this, right? The hostage farm gets a new hostage. His name is Elian Palnik: he’s cute and rebellious and totally not down with stoicism. He makes Greta question whether this system of peace through terror is really something to participate in willingly. Greta and Elian even meet-cute when the robots electrocute him for acting out.

So: Proper girl meets bad boy, they fall in love and fight robots? Yeah, not so much.

I always knew they were not exactly going to fight robots – I was always interested in taking apart that idea of pointlessly evil systems and easy rebellions — but I did think they’d fall in love. I tried to make it happen on the page. I wasn’t entirely forcing it. There is something between Greta and Elian, a mutual desperation, an undeniable spark. And yet …. And then ….

Having cracked Greta open, seeing her begin to pay attention to all the things she’s always known about but had to keep herself numb to, I found that spark and desperation were not the things she wanted. I found her turning, with her newly opened heart, to her best friend – her female best friend – Xie.

I will be honest: I didn’t plan it. I will be honest: I was scared of it.

I will be honest: Greta is me.

Greta, I’ve always said, is as close to a self-portrait as I’d ever care to put on the page. Take her line “I had my sexuality filed under ‘further research is needed’.” That was me, young. I had too much hair and I studied Latin and I read science fiction and I waited for it all to make sense. I had gay friends – boys mostly — but it was the 80s, so most of them had scary coming out stories and some of them even died. They were very brave. They knew who they were. I didn’t know who I was, but I didn’t have their brave surety and so I was pretty clear that I wasn’t like them. I wasn’t a lesbian.

But I wasn’t “normal” either. Was I supposed to be attracted to people? Was it okay to fall for my best friend? How about to fall for my best friend AND Mister Spock, AND that one boy in the play I directed?

Greta is me.

Greta is the character I needed, then, but didn’t have. The smart, scholarly hero in a science fiction novel, who is female, and bisexual.

I wish I’d had her. I so wish.

I guess I need her even now, when I am forty-something and straight-married with a blazing girl crush on Hayley Atwell and a sexuality that is still in need of some further research. I often, unwilling and unwitting, end up writing the things we need.

Nowadays I meet my readers. The ones who reach out to me are often bisexual girls and non-binary folks. They are, to a person, amazing and brave. They have found words for things I needed words for, and they have made the world change so that we can use those words out loud.

Things have changed. I know that they aren’t perfect. I know queer kids end up on the streets, or worse. Fifty people died last week in an attack on LGBTQ+ people, people of color. On a much more personal note, I know that I don’t want some people in my own family to read this essay. I know that my first editorial letter on this book said “can’t they just be BFFs?” (NB: this was not from anyone at my ultimate publisher; they have been nothing but awesome. I lost that professional relationship, and it wasn’t the only one.) “Why do they have to be gay?” Things haven’t changed enough.

But we have words now. I didn’t do that. My readers, and the other young people, they did that. I am so grateful to them.

We have words now, and we have heroes now. For my part I have Greta and Xie.

And I’m very happy to share them.

erinbowheadshotErin Bow is the author of the YA science fiction duology The Scorpion Rules/The Swan Riders, as well as the YA fantasies Sorrow’s Knot and Plain Kate.  She has a physics degree, a garden, two telescopes, and fifty-three cookbooks — as well as two kids, a cat, a dog, and a writer-husband.  She appears normal if you don’t look too closely.  Connect with her on twitter or tumblr, or visit erinbow.com.  
By | June 23rd, 2016|Categories: Archive, Author Guest Blog, Blogathon 2016, Writers on Writing|Tags: , |0 Comments

If You Haven’t Seen

by Edith Campbell

Back in October 2015 my daughter shared news with me about the book Large Fears by Myles Johnson and Kendrick Daye and I was so excited that I posted about it on FaceBook. I was easily engaged by the artwork and intrigued by the story of a young black boy who daydreamed about escaping to Mars where he could be free to love the color pink. Just above the image of the book, I wrote, “I’m really glad to know about this book! I would say there are so few books for queer black boys, but there are just too few books for all our marginalized young people.” My excitement about this self-published book was met with scornful remarks from Meg Rosoff, the person recently named winner of the Astrid Lindgren Award with the committee recognizing Rosoff for “empathizing with young people” and for being “utterly loyal to them”.

Rosoff stated

“There are not too few books for marginalised young people. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them. You don’t have to read about a queer black boy to read a book about a marginalised child. The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what “needs” to be represented. You don’t read Crime and Punishment to find out about Russian criminals. Or Alice in Wonderland to know about rabbits. Good literature expands your mind. It doesn’t have the “job” of being a mirror.”

The public debate that ensued focused on the purpose of children’s literature, the need for diversity and on the need for books for queer black boys. Regardless of Rosoff’s privileged agenda, we need more LGBTQIAP writers of color who can write from their own experience to develop stories that speak directly to the heart, mind and soul of LGBTQIAP teens while opening a window for cis gendered, heterosexual teens into the lives of people around them.

Rosoff, like too many others consider that anyone can read and enjoy Alice in Wonderland, Pippi Longstockings or other classic pieces of literature and that should suffice. When you constantly see yourself reflected in the Straightness and Whiteness books, you have no idea what it’s like for others who don’t. You don’t realize that seeing a brown child who is free to roam the world, imagine new opportunities and fight monsters will inspire another brown child who has no idea that they can, or should or will. You have no idea what it’s like for a brown child to crave flavor and texture they can appreciate, that they can wrap themselves in and feel as though it’s meant just for them. So many marginalized authors have written about how much they’ve always enjoyed reading, but their true enjoyment came when they read a book that matched their ethnic, religious or disability experience. We need to find our home, our place of belonging, when we read.

Queer Native kids and kids of color remain invisible in books for children and teens. Books sound like such a simple and easy place to give identity or even comfort to young people who may not find it elsewhere, but they’re not. Books for children and teens are a microcosm of a society dominated by straight white supremacists who feel the need to be careful about children’s books; to dominate.

The Library & Book Trade Almanac reported 19,894 YA books published from 2011-2014. Of those nearly 20.000 books the following are the ones I’ve been able to identify that contained queer protagonists and were written by queer authors who are Native American or of color and published by traditional publishers. (Actually, none were written by Native Americans.) You’ll immediately see there is nowhere near hundreds or thousands of them.

  1. Huntressby Malinda Lo; Little, Brown Books, 2011
  2. Boyfriends and Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez, 2011
  3. Chulito by Charles Rice Gonzales; Magnus Books, 2011
  4. Putting make-up on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright; Simon and Schuster, 2011
  5. Money Boyby Paul Yee; Groundwood Books, 2011
  6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; Simon and Schuster, 2012
  7. Adaptation by Malinda Lo; Little, Brown Books, 2012
  8. Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole; Bella Books, 2012
  9. 37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order)by Kekla Magoon; Henry Holt, 2012
  10. Mariposa Gown by Rigoberto Gonazalez; Tincture Press, 2012
  11. Happiness Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta; Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2013
  12. Bereftby Craig Laurance Gidney; Tiny Satchell Press, 2013
  13. Fat Angie E. Charlton-Trujillo; Candlewick, 2013
  14. If you could be mine by Sara Farizan; Algonquin, 2013
  15. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson; Arthur A. Levine 2013
  16. The Culling by Steven Dos Santos; Flux, 2013
  17. Drifting1700 divid by Lisa R. Nelson; Tiny Satchel Press, 2013
  18. God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya and Juliana Neufeld; Arsenal Pulp, 2014
  19. The Sowing by Steven Dos Santos; Flux, 2014

.o9% from 2011-2014

I may have missed a few (please add them in the comments) but not enough to significantly change this percentage. There’s no accurate way of knowing what percent of teens of color are LGBTQIA, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that they’re tremendously underrepresented by this paltry .09%. Surely we know that Paul Yee is not the only gay Asian male writer, that there are queer women of color who write young adult books, probably Native Americans too. There’s no need for anyone to stretch their imagination to realize how publishers are failing young people as they maintain oppressive policies towards our young people and not exerting the effort, not changing the practices and not rewriting the policies that prevent marginalized authors from getting published. Teens matter too much to make them think they’re invisible.

We need more, don’t we? More books that allow Native Americans and teens of color to explore gender identity, express sexual expression while letting all readers see the normalcy, complexity and possibilities of being queer.

Indeed, there are too few books for our marginalized young people but don’t just throw your hands up and walk away. Read and talk about the queer books you do enjoy. Mention them to your friends, on Twitter or wherever people are talking about books and not just LGBTQIAP books but any books. Ask your local library or bookstore for what you want to read. Do not accept that they don’t carry books with queer characters of color because if we don’t ask for the books, no one will know we want them.

This isn’t just about books; this is about making people visible, about providing dignity and equity to all teens.

“Children’s literature serves the important role of mediator between children, cultural knowledge, and socialization by adults. Moreover, because children’s literature has long maintained this traditional role in society, it possesses both symbolic and real power.” (Harris, 1990)

In asking for safe harbor for brown kids, queer and Native kids in the quiet hidden spaces of books, I long for safe, magical and open real life bathrooms and homes and night clubs and cities where these same brown kids can love and live and dance. It’s painful to think of the angels we’ve gained this month, may they be blessed and may they bless us all.

Thank you, GayYA! While I want to wish you many more years of fighting the good fight, I hope you won’t have to do that much longer. May our work turn completely to celebrating good works.

I’m a cis gendered, she/her female who appreciates the opportunity to speak in this space. In my work for diversity in children’s books for teens of color, I respect the places where we intersect as much as the places where our identities our unique. We all have so much work to do.

Bogart, Dave, ed. (2015).  Library and Book Trade Almanac. Information Today, Inc,, New Jersey.

Harris, Viola (1990). African American Children’s Literature: The First One Hundred Years” Journal of Negro Education, Autumn, 1990.

Edith Campbell is a mother, librarian, educator and quilter. She promotes literacy in its many forms to teens ediand she does this through her blog, CrazyQuiltEdi and in her work as an Education Librarian at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Edith currently serves as the Indiana State Ambassador for the United States Board on Books for Young People, Guidelines for Selecting Multicultural Materials Task Force of the Association for Library Services to Children and is part of the Digital Public Library’s eBook Curation Corps. She is a past member of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee, the WNDB Walter Award Committee and the CYBILS Nonfiction Awards Committee. She has recently been elected to the 2018 Printz Committee.

By | June 22nd, 2016|Categories: Archive, Blogathon 2016, Guest Blogs, Teachers & Librarians|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Bury Your Cliches

by Kiersten White

Although as the And I Darken trilogy progresses the stakes get higher (that’s a little Vlad the Impaler humor for you), here are two things I can promise you:
1. There will be no vampires.
2. No lesbians will die.

Now, maybe that sucks out some of the tension (not literally, because again, no vampires). I don’t care. My lesbians are 100% guaranteed to make it out alive. The dead lesbian trope is one I’m fully committed to avoiding forever.

But that’s an obvious(ly terrible) way that LGBTQIA+ characters are constantly done a disservice in storytelling. And, setting out to tell a wide variety of love stories in one series, I wanted to make sure I told them as honestly and carefully as I could.

I nearly blew it from the start.

and i darkenOne of my favorite characters in the first book (who has a much larger role in book two) is a lesbian. (I don’t want to spoil too much, so I won’t go into more detail.) (I like parenthetical statements. You’ve probably noticed.) When I was planning her backstory, I did something really stupid. I defaulted to lazy, stereotyped storytelling. I planned for her to reveal in conversation that she had been abused as a child—which could have led to the inference that this, then, was why she didn’t like men. I wasn’t stating that outright, but I was giving readers permission to fill in that blank.

Super nope, past Kiersten. While that kind of tragic abuse has always existed, there was no reason for it to be in her story. It didn’t add anything. It was just there for the sake of being there. And since she wasn’t a POV character, I couldn’t explore it in a way that would bring the nuance and depth necessary. It added nothing to the story but a lazy cliché.

Sometimes when we are writing in new territory, we default to “this is how stories like this go.” That’s wrong. It’s always wrong. We’re writing people, and there is no one way that people are. Fortunately, as I got to know the character, I realized I was messing up. This character isn’t a lesbian as a reaction to something else. This character is a lesbian because she is attracted to and loves women. And she’s in a giddy, fulfilling, sweet relationship. Because no one needs a reason—most especially a traumatic and terrible one—to love who they love.

Representation matters, but more than that, thoughtful and mindful representation matters. It took me a long time to work up the courage to explore queer identities in fiction. Giving my fictional characters permission to love because they loved, not because of anything else, helped me come to terms with my own sexuality. I hope my books offer that to someone else.

And lesbians, I promise, will always not just survive, but joyfully thrive. As they should.

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of And I Darken, the Paranormalcy trilogy, the Mind Games series, The Chaos of Stars, Illusions of Fate, and In the Shadows with artist Jim Di Bartolo. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she regularly avoids the beach. Visit her at www.kierstenwhite.com.