By Maggie Hira
I’d like to think I wasn’t quite eavesdropping on them. But I was. I totally was. And what I heard was extremely enlightening.
It happened a few weeks ago at my local Barnes & Noble. I was in the YA section, as usual, not looking for anything in particular, but browsing for something that would catch my eye or pique my interest. That’s when I heard them chattering in the other aisle—two teenage girls also on the hunt for an interesting read. I didn’t want to listen in on their conversation, but I couldn’t help myself. As an aspiring YA author, I need to be in touch with teens. I know people of all ages read YA, but the truth is that as a writer of YA, I have to remember that I’m writing for teens, not adults who happen to like reading about teens.
So, I listened. I stopped browsing (well, I pretended I was still browsing) to listen to them, because they were talking about books, and I was deeply curious about what they might have to say about YA and which books they would end up buying.
I probably listened to them for five minutes at the most, as they walked from one aisle to the next, looking at titles and making comments—“hate this book; love this author,” etc. Since I couldn’t follow them around without making it look obvious (and, also, that would just be creepy), I didn’t know exactly which titles they were talking about. But one comment stood out from all the rest. As they were about to leave, one of them remarked to the other that one of her friends was looking for a new book that featured a gay couple at the center of the romance, and he couldn’t find one. She added that her friend complained that there weren’t enough gay YA books available for him.
“Oh, is he gay?” her friend asked.
“Yeah, he’s gay,” the girl said.
Then they both turned on their heels and left. I remember they both looked a little disappointed as they walked away empty-handed from the YA section.
I spent the next few minutes walking around the B&N aimlessly, thinking about what I’d overheard.
I have to admit I’d never given gay YA much thought. Maybe it’s because I’m straight, or maybe it’s because I could always easily find the kind of YA books I was looking for—mainly paranormal or contemporary coming-of-age—but the conversation between the two teen girls made me think about gay YA more deeply than I ever had before. I realized that there were tons of teens out there looking for YA books that represented their experience or included characters they could relate to on a personal level. But, they weren’t finding them as easily as I was finding paranormal romances and contemporary coming-of-age stories featuring female narrators.
If I closed my eyes and chose a book at random from the YA section of the B&N, it would most likely be a paranormal romance. If I wanted to find a YA book with gay characters or a gay romance, I would probably have to ask an associate to help me find one. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to look.
Now, I love paranormal romance and it’s great that I can find those titles so easily, but it’s also clear to me now that there is a huge need for more gay YA books. I didn’t come to this realization just from overhearing this one conversation, because I have heard and read about the lack of gay YA many times before. But this particular conversation really brought the idea home because I heard it coming from real-life teens. I saw their disappointed faces as they walked away without any books.
Hearing it for myself made it different from reading about it on a forum or on an anonymous blog. It made everything more real.
As an aspiring YA author, I don’t know if I’ll ever write about gay characters (I’m actually working on a paranormal romance, haha), but I know that I will think about this issue more often and more profoundly. I’d like to think that one day I will have developed my craft to the point where I will be able to write about a variety of characters.
I will never forget what I overheard real teens say that day at the bookstore—that they want more gay YA. And I hope that one day I will be one of the authors that gives them some more of what they want.
Maggie’s favorite gay couple is Niall and Irial from Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series. You can read about her adventures in writing at maggie_writes.livejournal.com.