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Author: Emily Calkins

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

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)

BEA trendspotting: YA Crossovers

Last year around this time, I spent a lot of timing sighing over my Twitter feed as authors, librarians, and publishing types that I follow and admire tweeted excitedly about BEA. After three days of keeping tabs on publishing’s biggest weekend, I resolved to go in 2013, and with a little luck and a couple of vacation days, I was able to make it happen. I spent most of Thursday and Friday roaming the massive exhibits hall, going to panels, meeting authors, and picking up ARCs that I’m excited to share with the teen readers at my library. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just for things that piqued my interest: new titles from authors that I or readers at my library love, plots that sounded fresh, covers that drew me in. I wasn’t planning to look for trends, but I noticed one anyway: crossover titles.

Crossovers straddle the line between YA and what’s traditionally thought of as adult fiction. Books in this category are sometimes referred to as “new adult.” I’m not a fan of that term because I think it’s exclusive; to me it implies young adult books are for people aged 12-18, “new adult” books are for people aged 18-30, and, I guess, adult literature is only for people aged 30+. “Crossover” feels more inclusive, like saying “here’s a book that will appeal to teenage readers and people in their 20s and 30s and beyond.” Crossovers often have protagonists who are a little older than the typical YA novel or who are dealing with more adult issues. Other times, the writing style, plotting, or other literary elements help create all-ages appeal. I spotted lots of crossovers at BEA; here are the five most buzzed about:

If You Could Be Mine Sara FarizanIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Fariszan

Sahar and Nasrin: two young women in love in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. When Nasrin is engaged to be married, Sahar becomes desperate to keep Nasrin, and discovers a strange loophole in Iranian law: although homosexuality is a crime, sex re-assignment surgery for transgendered people not only legal — it’s paid for by the state. Sahar has never felt uncomfortable in her body, but the surgery would allow her to be with Nasrin, legally and openly. This novel grapples with complex cultural issues, which often appeal across ages, and features characters dealing with adult decisions. If You Could Be Mine was featured at the YA Buzz Panel.

New faces, new places: National Moving Month booklist

If you’ve noticed an abundance of “For Sale” signs and moving trucks in your neighborhood lately, you’re not alone. May is National Moving Month! As college lets out and spring home sales are finalized, thousands of families move. In honor of National Moving Month, I wanted to take a look at YA novels that feature stories about moving. Luckily moving — across the country, across town, or even just to a new schools — is a common theme in YA novels. Big changes make a great starting point for all kinds of stories.

pink_wilkinsonIn some cases, moving gives protagonists an opportunity to re-invent themselves. Ava, the heroine of Lili Wilkerson’s Pink (a 2012 Stonewall Honor book), leaves her girlfriend and her goth image behind when she transfers to the Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence. At Billy Hughes, Ava can wear pink, date boys, and be part of the Pastels (the school’s in-crowd). The new environment lets her try on a new personality with surprising consequences.

A Different Light: On Identity

Photo by flickr user Guillaume Paumier
Photo by flickr user Guillaume Paumier
Identity — who we are, how we become those people — is a central theme in lots of YA novels. Given what Claire Gross calls the “still-in-progress audience” of YA literature, the prevalence of questions surrounding identity is not surprising. Two recent articles examining queer* YA were published recently: “What Makes a Good YA Coming-out Novel?” by Claire Gross in The Horn Book and “A New Way for Gay Characters in Y.A.” in The Atlantic Wire‘s YA for Grownups series. Although they’re written from different perspectives and with different questions in mind, both delve into the importance of identity in queer YA. Maybe this is unsurprising too; after all, “sexual identity” is often used as synonym for “sexual orientation.” What struck me in the articles, however, was the authors’ focus on the importance other parts of identity, parts of identity not related to who and how a character loves. Gross and Doll agree that good queer YA often focuses as much, if not more, on other questions of identity than it does on questions of sexual and gender identity. Sexual orientation may be a synonym for sexual identity, but a person’s identity is not defined solely by her sexual orientation. Gross and Doll recognize this and see the importance of it in queer YA different but complementary ways.

March Madness: College basketball books

Photo by flickr user mvongrue.
Photo by flickr user mvongrue.
It’s March! You may have noticed a sudden boom in tournaments in the last few weeks, and that’s not a coincidence. They’re happening all over the web. School Library Journal is hosting the Battle of the Kids’ Books (it says “kids,” but it includes YA!). Paper Lantern Lit is hosting Swoon Madness, where readers vote for the most swoon-worthy guys in YA literature. The Morning News has the Tournament of Books. There’s Middle Earth March Madness, Star Wars March Madness, and a sci-fi TV tournament. Keep looking and you’ll find tournaments on bad (or good? so bad it’s good?) celebrity fashion, teen movies, and, I am not kidding you, hot dogs.

Behind all of these tournaments, though, is the daddy of all March Madness: the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. For the next three weeks, people all over the country will be talking basketball as the 68 best college teams face off in a single elimination tournament. The tournament ends with the championship game in Atlanta on April 8, but not before the initial group is narrowed from 68 teams to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, then Final Four. The tournament has been called the best sporting event in America; last year nearly 6 million people submitted brackets on Basically, it’s a big deal. The first big round of tournament kicks off with 16 games today and 16 tomorrow. Brackets have been filled out and submitted to pools all over the country. Basketball fans are wearing their lucky t-shirts/hats/socks. In some places, like my hometown, whole communities will turn on their TVs to watch their teams play in what’s fondly known as the Big Dance. (Go Zags!)

Luckily, YA fans don’t have to be left out of all the fun. And (no offense, swoon-worthy guys of YA), we’re not stuck just voting for our favorite lovable characters. Below, check out a list of fiction and nonfiction titles about college basketball and the NCAA tournament. After all, you need something read between the games, right?

The Beanstalk, a Glass Slipper, and a Frog Prince: Fairy Tale Mash-Ups in YA Lit

frog princeIn honor of Tell A Fairytale Day tomorrow, let’s talk about fairy tale mash-ups. YA authors do lots of great things with fairy tales, from detailed re-tellings like Robin McKinley’s Beauty (one of my favorites) to wild re-imaginings like Marissa Meyer’s cyberpunk version of Cinderella, Cinder (2012 Teens’ Top Ten). One of my favorite of the many contemporary takes on fairy tales is the mash-up. This is a story that recombines elements or characters from multiple fairy tales to make a new story. Below, I’ve compiled a list of five notable fairy tale mash-ups. Be sure to add your favorites in the comments if you don’t see them here!

A Different Light: LGBTQ Titles on YALSA’s Awards & Select Lists

Photo by flickr user Guillaume Paumier
Photo by flickr user Guillaume Paumier

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.

How to Host a YMA Viewing Party

yma-2013-alertWith less than a week to go until the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) are announced, it’s time to get serious about your plans for the morning of Monday, January 28. If you’re lucky enough to be at Midwinter, you can skip the rest of this post: obviously you’ll be at the announcements in person. If, like me, you couldn’t make it to Midwinter, don’t worry! You can still celebrate the biggest day of the year in children’s and YA literature. I’ve got you covered. Here are the basic ingredients for hosting your own YMA viewing party.

A Different Light: LGBTQ characters on 2012 “Best of” Lists

lgbtqyalitI love “best of” lists. They’re one of the reasons that December is one of my favorite book months of the year (the other reason is that awards talk starts to ramp up, and if you aren’t already excited for the Youth Media Awards, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore).

If you haven’t already read Kelly’s breakdown of this year’s “best of” lists, go check it out. It’s a fantastic and thorough post. In order to maintain a little Hub-wide consistency, I’ve used the same 5 “best of” lists and data that Kelly did: Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s “Best Teen Books for Adults” list. I’ve read many but not all of the books on the best of lists, so I relied on Malinda Lo’s lists of LGBTQ YA published in 2012 (published on her blog) to make sure that I noted all of the LGBTQ books on the lists.

A Different Light: An Interview with Ellen Wittlinger

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Massachusetts Library System’s 4th Annual Teen Summit. This year’s theme was “The Library as Safe Space.” It was a day-long opportunity to connect with teen librarians around the state, share ideas, and focus on services to LGBTQ youth and other marginalized populations. It was an all-around inspiring day, but the highlight, for me, was the keynote speech give by Ellen Wittlinger, author of the 2000 Printz Honor book Hard Love (also a 2000 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, a 2000 Best Books for Young Adults title, and a 2002 Popular Paperback for Young Adults) and 1999’s Parrotfish, one of the first YA books to feature a transgender protagonist. Her moving speech at the Teen Summit touched on many of the sad statistics found in last week’s great post by Molly Wetta but also explained her reasons for writing queer YA. Ellen was kind enough to agree to a brief interview, which I’m happy to share below.

Tell us a little about your background — how did you, a straight white woman, come to write about characters like Grady, a transgendered boy, and Marisol, who proudly calls herself a “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian?”

In my mid-twenties I was fortunate enough to live in Provincetown, Massachusetts for three years as a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center. I’d always had a few gay friends, but usually they weren’t out to their family or co-workers. But in the early 70’s I was at ground zero for people who were “out and proud” and it affected me profoundly. Because of my own difficulties with my family, I’d always felt I had a lot in common with my gay and lesbian friends, but it was in P’town that I first began to think of myself as an advocate as well as an ally.

When I began to write YA literature it seemed like a natural avenue to take.