(see separate page (in the right hand column) for actual book list)
This is a general commentary with some specific references etcetera, as opposed to an en masse review of the individual works within the genre, as that could take some time and a massive quantity of space (though it is something I will be aiming for on an individual basis over the course of time). Naturally what I am going to be saying has rather a bias towards what I have actually come across and read, I can’t really talk about things with any sort or realistic viewpoint if I haven’t read them, that being said there is also an obvious bias towards lesbian fiction, though I do read gay and transgendered (which would be my second major leaning point) fiction as well.
I read a comment recently, I think on Wikipedia, so the veracity of it may or may not be accurate, about the increase of LGBTQ young adult fiction being published but still represents what I am trying to say;
“Each year since 2000, an average of 10 to 12 young adult novels with gay or lesbian content has been published in the United States.” Wikipedia
Whilst this is an obvious improvement, it remains a rather pitiful fact if you think about the sheer quantity of young adult books that are published annually, and this is only taking the States into account, I am also curious as to what that adds up to in ‘real money’, meaning how many young adult books are published there in a year, so what percentage does that make these figures? I suspect teeny tiny, but maybe that’s just me being cynical.
It is only in more recent years that the protagonists of these types of books didn’t end up being attacked/raped or committing suicide by the end. If that is how you’re going to end a novel for this particular audience then, quite frankly, why are you bothering writing them in the first place? Answer? Because the LGBTQ young adult audience were desperate for any crumbs offered reflecting our reality, so naturally there continued to be a market for this type of ending.
How pathetic is it that we are that ‘starved’ for gay characters that we’ll settle for what ever is offered to us, no matter how depressing or derogatory. We claim, as a minority to have ‘pride’ (another thing I couldn’t give a toss about and yes I realise I am probably going to burn in rainbow hell, but who cares? I am who I am and I see no need to justify that to the world at large. Straight people don’t have a big march’s saying ‘hey, we’re straight, go team us’ what do we want a medal? I completely don’t get it… don’t get me wrong if folk want to do so, or feel a need, then go for it, I just don’t) yet we’ll put up with this homophobic crap, 70’s to mid 80’s fiction, I am predominantly looking at you. For example; Sandra Scoppettone’s “Happy Endings are all alike” (1978), no endings that I would lay claim to a happy would end in such disaster for the main character as this does. Honestly, it was so off putting I’ve yet to read it a second time, though I could, admittedly, probably read it a little more objectively this time around. Who lets their protagonist get raped and beaten up because they are gay and give the book a title like that? Was it meant to be ironic?
In an interview with Ellen Hart, Scoppettone said (about “Happy endings are all alike”);
“When published, it was not well received, selling few copies and given negative reviews. According to the author, the lukewarm reception that the book received was because the protagonists were girls.”
Now, I can’t help but feel that that might not be the most accurate reasoning for why it didn’t sell well… amongst PTA mom’s and white middle class men perhaps sure, but then why would they be reading the book anyway? Amongst teens, it is more likely that they didn’t like it because of how the whole ‘lesbian’ thing was dealt with. If I had been in my teens in the 70’s and this was the only lesbian book I could lay my hands on, damn right I’d be a depressed lesbian… not because I was gay, but because this could be how the world might view me. What a terrible thing to offer to young adults, saying ‘you’re gay’ now you’re going to get battered within an inch of your life’. Oh yay.
However, in contrast to this there is also some absolutely brilliant fiction emerging and has been doing so since the late 90’s. Julie Anne Peters should be particularly noted, whilst I find her books a bit hit and miss, I do so only in whether or not I ‘get on’ with what she is writing about, regardless of my personal opinion about any individual book she writes, I think she is good at what she is trying to achieve and is offering a lot to the LGBTQ young adult community. Her novel “Luna” is particularly excellent, it is one of the few genuinely interesting and realistic views on MtF transitioning, but told from the point of view of the MtF’s sister. I particularly like Ms Peters’ reasoning for this;
“There were, in fact, literary challenges to pulling this thing off. The major one was my stubborn bias in favor of authentic voices in LGBTQI literature. I’m not trans. I never will be. My authenticity bias couldn’t be compromised. To be authentic and honest, the narrator, the main character, would need to act in the role of observer. I decided to create a sister for Luna, Regan. Regan would be Luna’s confidante throughout life and in that way she could see, and relate to the reader, the childhood manifestations of being born transgender.”
Whereas “Far from Xanadu” about a butch(ish) gay teen falling for a straight teen, is a novel I am hard pressed to reach the end of… in fact I’m not entirely sure I have yet. Not because it is badly written or anything like that, simply because I find it hard to get involved with, I find the main character slightly annoying and I can honestly not even slightly se why she is infatuated with Xanadu, she is hardly likable.
What I especially like about Julie Anne Peters’ novels is that they are all different from each other, whilst remaining evident that they are being written by the same author and all cover interesting topics and ideas and reference different areas of gay teen life. A refreshing change for sure.
Whilst there is not a hugely wide range of novels out there on this subject, they are increasing in both quantity and quality, a fact that can only be heralded as a good thing unless you are one of those who despairs at ‘what our children are reading’ types who don’t like their kids to experience anything that deviates from the ‘norm’ (as dictated by you) and spend plentiful hours trying to ban books from school and public libraries (that you no doubt have never even read, but are assuming their content is immoral, because it must be, given the ‘content’ which you actually know nothing about… isn’t fear of the unknown a powerful thing?). My message to you; YOU are potentially harming your children more by doing this than if they just went ahead and read the books you so blindly want to ban. By denying them access to a wide range of materials, you are blinding them to the truth of society and to a reality that will continue to happen no matter how hard you try to deny it and if your child happens to be gay, then you are denying who they are for them. You are taking away their choices, you are assuming that they are unable to judge for themselves what they are reading and you are failing to help provide them with the means to make such judgements for themselves… Of course, if these are your views, why are you even reading this? 😉
When it comes to YA LGBTQ fiction I find myself in a bit of a quandary, I am not a YA, a teen or whatever other acronym you wish to assign to today’s youth, I am an adult who is striving to fill in the blanks with what was simply not available when I was the age these books are being aimed at, and because I like YA fiction, I think it has a lot to offer. I know people look down on it because of who it is aimed at, well, a large proportion of it is not vacuous it offers insightful commentaries and interesting viewpoints and differing opinions and attitudes, the whole shebang. I read them because adult fiction is so heterosexual it is making me blind and I am fed up with the novels I read not even remotely reflecting my life… okay, so naturally this isn’t going to be the case with the science fiction and fantasy and graphic novels I read either, but time and a place. I also like them because, despite what people think, they are not hung up on sex; there is nothing wrong with a well placed, well written sex scene, I’m just not that fussed about them.
However, having said all that, in actuality I don’t find that these sorts of novels reflect my life either. They are so full of angst, denial, depression, suicidal tendencies, melodrama etc As a teenager, I never went through the figuring out whether I was gay or straight, I knew I was gay, didn’t care, had no issues about others knowing, they treated me no better or worse than they already were doing… and I was depressed because I was a teenager not because I was gay. Doesn’t mean I don’t like the books, sometimes I just don’t get them. I can completely understand how they are life saving items for others though. Maybe it has something specifically to do with being brought up in England rather than the states? Who knows, regardless I had no problems with my sexuality and neither did anyone else or if they did I didn’t know about it.
This is now straying away from the point somewhat. My point (and I do have one) is that LGBTQ YA literature is for the most part on the rise and improving visibly with each book published in the mainstream. My only complaint is that bookstores don’t stock them, neither; for the most part do the libraries. How are kids supposed to find these books if they are so hard to come across? I have three shelves of this type of fiction, which has taken me a fair amount of research and sourcing, how are kids supposed to do that? I think it is shameful that the libraries and bookstores seem almost ashamed of having this sort of literature around, half of them you can’t even order the books from. Borders UK I am looking at you, you too Waterstones. Sadly Borders is now in administration, so my gripe with them is pretty much a moot point. I’m ashamed to admit that I find most of the books I want on Amazon. I hate that I can’t support the high street bookseller, or small businesses, but if they aren’t going to provide the books that I am trying to source then how can I?
So; LGBTQ YA fiction, good thing, bad thing? On the rise, decline? Where do you source your books? Is it something you read into adulthood, or is it strictly ‘for the kids’?