I an unabashed fan of queer young adult literature. This is perhaps partly due to the first young adult novel I read in high school: Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, a 2000 Printz Honor book, a 2000 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and a 2002 Popular Paperback for Young Adults. Even though I’m an adult who can no longer claim the “young” part, coming out stories and novels featuring characters who don’t fit the norm when it comes to their sexual or gender identities always make it to the top of my to-read list. I come back to these kinds of books again and again when looking for a good contemporary young adult read. My only problem? There’s simply not enough of them. When I saw the schedule for YALSA’s Young Adult Literature Symposium, I knew I had to attend the panel on LGBTQ teens and their literature and was excited to hear about upcoming releases in this category of young adult fiction.
Of all the young adult novels published in 2012, only 55 feature queer characters. Not bad, right? I mean, You could read one a week and still not get through them all. But in reality, that’s only 1.6% of the 3325 books published in the YA market, yet studies show that about 4% of teens identify as queer (which is probably a low estimate).
In the past, young people typically discovered their sexual and gender identity later in life, after high school, when they were living on their own. Now, research shows that most queer kids identify between the ages of 11 to 13, just as they are beginning to read young adult literature. Connecting these youth with literature that features characters they can identify with is of the utmost importance — especially in light of some troubling statistics:
- 85% of queer youth report experiencing verbal harassment
- 40% report experiencing physical assault
- Youth who identify as queer have a higher rate of poor academic performance, absenteeism from school, and substance abuse
Statistics for transgendered youth are even more alarming:
- 9 out of 10 transgendered youth report being verbally harassed
- 5 out of 10 transgendered your report being physically assaulted
- two-thirds of transgendered your report feeling unsafe
- 45% of transgendered youth will attempt suicide
It isn’t just LGBTQ kids who can benefit from an increased awareness and acceptance of queer characters. Many youth are wrongly identified by peers as queer due to stereotypes, so support and education benefits everyone.
Likewise, it isn’t just other people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered who can serve as advocates for queer youth. Brian Katcher, author of the Stonewall Award-winning book Almost Perfect, is a man who identifies as straight and teaches computer classes and kindergarten in rural Missouri. This might not be the type of person you’d expect to write a story featuring a transgendered character, but when he sought to write his second novel, he was simply looking to tell a good story about young love persevering despite obstacles. The idea of a boy who falls in love with a transgendered girl without realizing it and the complications that can arise from that seemed to fit the bill. When he went to do research, he discovered it was a story that needed to be told. His presentation during the program was heart-warming, especially when he discussed how open his editor was to the idea of publishing a book that features a romantic storyline between a boy and a transgendered girl. As recently as last year, authors were claiming that agents and editors were making requests to “de-gay” the characters in their young adult novels.
Despite these setbacks, more queer characters are popping up in different types of young adult novels. While this year has seen excellent additions to traditional contemporary coming out stories, such as emily m. danforth’s debut The Miseducation of Cameron Post, more fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels featuring LGBTQ characters were also published.
- Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin is set in 1926 and tells the story of a girl discovering the science of ornithology and love in an unexpected place.
- Malinda Lo’s latest novel, Adaptation, is a science fiction thriller with a bisexual protagonist.
- While queer issues are not at the center of Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue, two supporting characters are gay.
In the history of LGBTQ young adult literature, it’s getting better. We wrote earlier this month about the next big thing in young adult literature: current trends point to a movement beyond gay and lesbian, to titles that push the boundaries of gender and sexual identities. Characters are more complex and nuanced and reflect a broader notion of what it means to be queer. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and we will see more diverse characters and stories within queer young adult literature in addition to a higher percentage of young adult literature overall including LGBTQ characters.
As promised, the panel gave us a peek at upcoming LGBTQ titles. You can find more booklists and additional resources at LGBT @ Your Library.
Here’s a list of 2013 releases to look forward to:
- Teeth by Hannah Moskovitz, a gritty, romantic modern fairy tale
- Sin Eater’s Confession by Ilsa Bick, a crime fiction story about the death of Jimmy, who was, you know… (description found at The Book Depository)
- The Road to Her by K.E. Payne, a novel about actors in the first lesbian storyline in a UK soap whose romance blossoms off-screen
- Winger by Andrew Smith, a part-graphic novel about fitting in and what to do when your best friend likes boys more than girls
- Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore, a dystopian novel featuring zombies and LGBTQ characters
- The Culling by Steven dos Santos, another dystopian novel featuring a male-male romance
- Made of Stars by Kelley York, a contemporary thriller
What LGBTQ young adult novels are your favorites and what 2013 titles that feature queer characters are you looking forward to?
— Molly Wetta, currently (finally!) reading Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor