Choose a Book by Its Cover

Every Day was one of The Atlantic Wire's most Wonderful Book Covers of 2012
Every Day was one of The Atlantic Wire’s most Wonderful Book Covers of 2012

Choosing a book by its cover is typically frowned upon, but lately I have been finding that it can be a great idea for both readers and libraries! Creating a book display centered solely on book cover art is not a new concept, but it is a visually appealing way to successfully recommend some good books. My library first learned about creating book recommendations based on the cover art for teens from another local teen librarian who was asking her teen advisory board to choose the next year’s lineup of book displays, with most of her displays choices being centered on similar visual imagery on book covers. What has been a surprise to me, though, is how popular some of our cover-themed displays have been with readers of all ages. They are eye-catching, they draw a browser in, and, as a result, we are constantly restocking these displays.

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A Different Light: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Welcome to the 2nd post of A Different Light, a regular feature on The Hub highlighting books with LGBTQ characters in YA lit.

Check out the previous post for more information about the mission of this feature and Malinda Lo’s recent blog post for recent numbers on LGBT titles in YA lit. If you have a title or a theme that you would like to see explored in A Different Light, please use the reply feature below to comment.

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After an summer of catching up on The Hunger Games trilogy, picking up The Vast Fields of Ordinary exemplifies what fall means to me: resetting. Resetting back to this time (present day) and place (Iowa). Resetting the speed of life to a quiet and often dreamy pace (“In the absence of its light our front yard had become shades darker than the rest of the yards on our block, and later that night I dreamt our dead lamp grew arms and legs and lurched down the street like a robot.”). Burd’s vast and often touching metaphors swallowed me whole from the first chapter and I was hooked. Like a previous post written about the protagonist from Marcelo in the Real World, Dade Hamilton is the kind of character I wish I could sit and conversation with. Wait — I take that back. Dade Hamilton is the kind of character I wish that I could enjoy quiet moments with, like drifting on a pool in a raft nearby or staring at the night Iowan sky amongst cornfields.

Dade’s solitude, introversion, and the honest/authentic tone of his internal dialogue are universal. Burd has created a “last summer” before college story that really captures the universal feeling of loss, change, and transformation – all embedded in a layered story of sexuality, bullying, abuse, and self-discovery.

The fact that Dade is gay is central to the plot and the way that he wrestles with his sexuality is incredibly open and endearing: “I practiced saying I was gay to inanimate objects around the house. I told the soap dish in my bathroom, the ceiling fan above my bed, the blue drinking glass I favored above all the others simply because over the years its entire family has perished one by one during various interactions with hard surfaces around the kitchen and I’d convinced myself that our solitude was linked.” However, Dade’s story is neither cliché or dramatic. He feels real, tangible, and very human. While my initial reason for picking this book to review was because it won the 2010 Stonewall Book Award, I wouldn’t dare pigeonhole this title into simply LGBTQ YA lit.

I especially applaud Burd for introducing Lucy into the story. Rejected by her parents in L.A., she is sent to Iowa to live with her aunt and uncle who are neighbors of the Hamilton’s. Too rarely do we ever see LGBTQ literature – for teens or adults – with gay men and lesbian characters in the same book. Lucy becomes an excellent friend for Dade – really, his first true friend. She stands up the bullies, she listens to his boy trouble, and she is there for the fun and the hard times. Burd could have easily made her a straight character, but he stepped outside the box by making her a lesbian.

I’m interested in hearing from readers if you…

1) know of other titles with gay and lesbian characters as friends in YA lit

2) can recommend other “summer before college” titles – with or without LGBTQ characters

3) read the book. What did you think of the ending? This was the one piece that I thought fell flat in the book. For a novel that so meticulously maneuvered language throughout the story, the afterward felt rushed. I would have been fine without learning what happened to Dade in college. But the ending didn’t take away from all that I cherished from Burd’s debut effort. I look forward to reading more from him.

— Cristina Mitra, currently reading Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

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