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A Different Light: LGBTQ Characters on 2013 “Best Of” Lists

2013 December 27
by Emily Calkins
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lgbtqyalitOne of my favorite things about end-of-year “Best Of” lists is the chance to see what I’ve read – and what I’ve missed – in YA in the last year. A yearly review of the lists is also a good chance to track trends as they evolve from year to year. As someone who’s particularly interested in the portrayal  of LGBTQ teens in young adult literature, reviewing “Best Of” lists is a good way to check in on the status on LGBTQ literature for teens.

Before you read this post, do check out Geri’s wonderful by the numbers breakdown of the 2013 “Best Of” lists.  I’ve used the same 5 “best of” lists and data that Geri used in her post and that Hub bloggers have used in the past: Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s “Best Teen Books for Adults” list. Using the same lists helps maintain consistency between posts and across years (see last year’s breakdown of LGBTQ characters on Best Of lists here). I’ve read  some but not all of the books on the best of lists, so I relied on publisher-provided summaries and Goodreads tags to determine which titles qualifiy as LGBTQ. If I’ve missed something, please let me know in the comments!

There were 64 fiction titles on the lists; just 4 (or 6.2%) focus on LGBTQ protagonists or issues.  This is down from last year when almost 8% of the titles on the list featured LGBTQ themes, main characters, or plot lines. Also notable is the homogeneity of the characters portrayed in the four “Best of” titles. All of LGBTQ characters on this year’s lists are cisgendered gay boys; there are no bisexual or lesbian characters and no transgendered characters on this year’s list (again, I haven’t read all of the books, so do please let me know if I’m wrong!)

The four LGBTQ novels on this year’s “best of” lists are:

More Than This

More Than This by Patrick Ness (2 of 5 lists)

TWO BOYS KISSING cover

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (1 of 5 lists)

winger cover

Winger by Andrew Smith (2 of 5 lists)

summerprince

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (1 of 5 lists)

It’s disappointing, especially given the wonderful diversity of LGBTQ themes and characters on last year’s lists, to see such a meager representation for LGBTQ characters and themes on this year’s “Best Of” lists. It’s vital that fans of young adult literature support these great books so that the message comes across loud and clear: there’s a place for LGBTQ characters in YA lit!

– Emily Calkins, listening to Speaking From Among the Bones 

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. December 27, 2013

    As I did my breakdown of 2013 “best of” lists (which is linked to in the post you reference above), I used Malinda Lo’s amazing records to look at the books featuring LGBTQ representation on some level. She then wrote a response to this, too, which looks even further in depth at what kind of representation emerged on those “best” lists: http://malindalo.tumblr.com/post/69595686264/stacked-best-of-2013-ya-list-breakdown-part-1

  2. Emily Calkins permalink
    December 27, 2013

    Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for directing us to those great posts! It looks like Malinda Lo noticed what I did – almost no diversity in the kinds of people represented in LGBTQ YA this year. It’s shame. Hopefully next year will be better.

    Emily

  3. Jen J. permalink
    December 27, 2013

    Enki in The Summer Prince (not the narrator, but one of the main characters, in fact he’s the Summer Prince of the title) is bisexual (at least, he is sexually active by choice with both men and women, his actual preferences, I think, remain somewhat murky as he has a larger agenda at work). And narrator June’s mother is married to a woman following her previous husband’s suicide, although the mom and new wife are much more minor characters than the teenagers.

    I absolutely adored this book, although some colleagues I’ve spoken with didn’t like it nearly as much (they found the complex world building too dense and ill-explained to the point where they were distracted from the story), in part for the futuristic society where the gender of the person you love isn’t really an issue.

  4. December 30, 2013

    Booklist’s Best-of lists weren’t part of this survey, but Sara Farizan’s IF YOU COULD BE MINE (published by my company) was named a Booklist Top Ten First Books for Youth title. Its protagonist is an Iranian lesbian and the story features transgendered secondary characters.

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