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Introducing “A Different Light”: a spotlight on LGBTQ-themed YA lit

"Arco Iris" by Cristina Mitra

As one of the advisory board members of The Hub, I have really enjoyed being part of a committed group of people who have ushered this blog’s growth since its launch last year. When thinking about what I wanted to contribute to the blog moving forward, my mind immediately went to a regular feature on LGBTQ-themed YA lit. Hence, A Different Light! A reference to a former beloved San Francisco bookstore featuring LGBTQ titles, the goal of this feature will be to bring more visibility to the growing numbers of LGBTQ-themed YA lit. The feature will include book reviews, book lists, author features and more.

In Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkin’s essential survey, The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004, the authors end the book with a call for more characters of color, lesbian, and transgender characters in LGBTQ books. The exciting thing is – 5 years after its publication — this is happening. Books like Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award Finalist) are testament to this changing tide. I am excited to use A Different Light as an avenue to showcase new voices in LGBTQ YA lit as well as highlight authors like David Levitan and Alex Sanchez who are contemporary stalwarts of the genre.

Now more than ever A Different Light is important for a blog dedicated to YA lit enthusiasts. Whether you are an avid reader of LGBTQ-themed YA lit or you not yet read a book with a gay character, there is – to quote one of my favorite musicals — “No Day But Today” to start 1) reading these books and 2) talking about them.

In an August 2011 article in the The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, Elizabeth Koehler talks about the harsh and often brutal reality of bullying for LGBTQ teens today. Many readers probably read about the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, a 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after he was bullied for being gay; yesterday in fact marked the 1-year anniversary of Clementi’s death. And just last week 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, N.Y. committed suicide, despite being one of the contributors to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project – a website filled with thousands of video testimonials, from everyday people to celebrities, aimed to give LGBTQ youth hope to stay alive. For those of us who work with youth in libraries, Koehler argues, “One way that young adult librarians in public and school libraries can support LGBTQ teens and help to counteract anti-gay bullying and homophobia is by collecting and promoting LGBTQ-themed young adult literature, especially books that portray positive, accurate images of the LGBTQ community.”

Let’s face it: It’s not easy being a teenager.  The pressure to conform can feel insurmountable. For teens that identify within the LGBTQ spectrum (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or questioning) the added pressures are especially significant and the result of bullying and homophobia that these teens face can be horrific.

I think that reading LGBTQ-themed YA lit and talking about it can be an excellent way to gain a window into the lives of LGBTQ teens – which in and of itself include a massive diversity of experiences based on race, ethnicity, culture, and identity – and increase one’s understanding of this important subset of teens. For readers who do identify as LGBTQ, these titles can be crucial reflections of one’s reality and also present different perspectives that can shed light on one’s own personal experience. My hope is to represent a very broad cross-section of YA lit that highlights many vantages on LGBTQ teens.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts as the feature grows over time. Look out for A Different Light on October 14th with a comparison of Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect (2010 Best Books for Young Adults winner) and Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary (2009 Best Books for Young Adults Nominations and 2010 Stonewall Children and Young Adult Literature Book Award)!

— Cristina Mitra, currently finishing Julie Anne Peter’s She Loves You, She Loves You Not

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