I think it’s official now: 2012 was a pretty great year for LGBTQ themes in the young adult literature world. In December, I looked at the LGBTQ titles included on this year’s “Best Of” lists. LGBTQ titles still represent a pretty small percentage of YA literature, but it’s a growing percentage, and readers looking for books featuring LGBTQ characters have more to choose from than ever before. More encouragingly, readers looking for LGBTQ books will find them on the awards and selected lists released in January after many months of hard work by committee members.
The natural first place to look for wonderful LGBTQ books is the Stonewall Awards. After all, the award (not administered by YALSA, but administered by ALA and included in the 2013 Hub Challenge reading list, so included here) recognizes “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.” This year’s committee named a winner and four honor titles, and I’ll come back to those books in a moment.
What’s really exciting about this year is that there are plenty of LGBTQ books found on other awards and selected lists as well. That means that there’s lots of high quality literature coming out that has LGBTQ themes. That’s a little different from what the Stonewall Award recognizes. The Stonewall Award focuses on the LGBTQ experience; the other awards are looking at something else (appeal, literary merit, popularity among teen readers, etc.). Seeing LGBTQ themes represented on those lists demonstrates the variety and quality of literature with LGBTQ themes today, and it shows that the brilliant librarians on the committees aren’t thinking of LGBTQ themes as something separate — explorations of love and sexuality of any kind are just one of the many themes explored by the rich and complex world of YA literature.
A couple of other titles bear mentioning for their multiple recognitions. First up is Benjamin Alire SÃ¡enz’s Aristotle And Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. This lovely coming-of-age novel cleaned up on the morning the Youth Media Awards were announced: in addition to winning the Stonewall Award for Young Adult Literature, it won the Pura BelprÃ© Award (given by the Association for Library Services to Children, ALSC), and it was named a Printz honor title. Plus, it’s a Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten book!
Drama, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier about life and love in a middle school drama group, is another big winner. It’s one of the four Stonewall Award honor winners, and it appears in both the Great Graphic Novels Top Ten and the Popular Paperbacks Top Ten (it’s on the “Gowns, Greasepaint, and Guitars” list).
In addition to these two big winners, there are titles with LGBTQ themes and characters on most of YALSA’s awards and selected lists, and several of them appear on more than one. The stories told in these books are as diverse and varied as the characters themselves — another sign that LGBTQ YA literature had a great year. In some, like The Diviners (an Amazing Audiobooks Top Ten and a BFYA Top Ten) or See You At Harry’s (an Amazing Audiobooks pick and a BFYA title), the LGBTQ element is small — a gay or lesbian secondary character whose sexuality isn’t an issue, just an accepted fact about the character. In others, like Tell the Wolves I’m Home (an Alex Award winner) and Personal Effects (an Amazing Audiobooks Top Ten and a BFYA pick), heterosexual protagonists are grappling with the queerness of a family member. While there are plenty of LGBTQ-friendly titles where the main character is straight, there is a diverse group of titles featuring queer protagonists too.
For examples, Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy won the Stonewall Award for young adult literature last year. This year, it’s a Popular Paperbacks Top Ten title from the “Books That Won’t Make You Blush” list. It tells the story of Carlos Duarte, a contemporary gay teen in New York City entering the competitive world of makeup artists.
That’s a very different story from the one in Morris Award finalist The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a book about growing up lesbian in rural eastern Montana in the 1990s. Unlike Drama or Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, Cameron Post is probably a best fit for older readers. A + E 4ever (a Great Graphic Novels title) is about two misfit teens exploring their sexual identites. Both have scenes that might make younger readers blush, but again, that only points to the fantastic diversity of the LGBTQ titles on this year’s awards and selected lists.
Happily, there’s not enough space in this post to mention all of the great LGBTQ books on this year’s awards and selected lists. The titles above can help you get started, but there’s much more to explore!
–Emily Calkins, currently reading Boy21 by Matthew Quick
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