#SJYALit: LGBTQ+ YA lit in the 90s/00s versus now, a guest post by Alex B.
Imagine a gay teen buying Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Road at the local bookstore and keeping it on her bookshelf at home after reading it. Is she going to recommend it to friends? Would she take it to school or read it at a café? Since this gay teen was me, I can tell you, no, she does not.
Growing up in the 90s, I had no exposure to LGBTQ+ characters or themes in any of my children’s books (despite my deep love of Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish, there’s no gay content). The teen section of 00s bookstore was my first chance to see someone like me in print. Yet, it was also the section that labeled its books pretty clearly. See this cover with loopy cursive font for the title and an image of two people holding hands? Probably a romance. See this cover with a sword on it? Probably going to have some fighting in it. See this cover of two girls’ resting their heads together with the title Keeping You a Secret? Probably about lesbians. Obvious benefits of doing this include helping teens find a book they are interested in. In the case of social justice in young adult literature (#SJYALIT everyone!), there’s a lot to be said for the clear, visible inclusion of LGBTQ+ books at the publishing press, bookstore, and classroom. This group of books definitely seemed to grow with me as I got older. The downside of these covers, in LGBTQ+ literature’s situation, is that they may lead to exclusion from collections or isolation from public or personal promotion, as in my experience. I was lucky to find LGBTQ+ lit (and here I should make a very important note – it was really mostly books with gay characters, and a few with lesbians, but rarely if at all any queer, bi, or trans characters) relatively easily, but then I had to decide if I was brave enough to buy it, when it clearly sent a message to everyone else, too.
What does LGBTQ+ lit look like now, in the 10s? Beautiful! There are still books with covers or titles that showcase the content, which is important, but there are many more books that have characters tangentially representing LGBTQ+ identity in the larger scope of the story, more subtle books that have LGBTQ+ main characters or LGBTQ+ experiences, or books that are diversely including LGBTQ+ themes in other ways. I was talking about this post with a straight friend when she told me she could not remember reading a book – in school or out – that had an LGBTQ character, at least a main character. I would bet some of that is access, with fewer books out in the 90s and 00s when we were growing up, and some might have to do with those covers. Now, teens may pick a book to read, such as Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, and then discover the LGBTQ+ plot within. These kinds of books help promote social justice because they place the stories in context, helping LGBTQ+ teens find themselves in stories where they can fall in love and form their identity but also do more, interact more, think more, talk more, and live more. It helps non-LGBTQ+ teens do the same and will build bridges between us. We are here, we are falling in love, but we are also helping our sisters escape from the forest’s magical Folk… wait, no. That’s Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. But we are maybe just stressing out about homework, trying to figure out what to do after high school, and reconciling with our families and friends, like other teens.
In my reflection of how LGBTQ+ YA lit has changed over the decades, I noticed the inclusion of smaller characters or plot points and/or more subtle covers and titles as one significant change. Their crossover to address other social justice concerns such as gender, racial, socioeconomic, or religious diversity has also been growing. I hope to find more in the late 10s or early 20s that also address a range of styles, since so many are still focused on deeply emotional topics such as coming out. For instance, can some be solely funny or lighthearted, too? I would personally appreciate having both books that provide acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ issues and books that promote stress relief in laughing with genuinely funny characters who, like me, include being gay as part of their larger humanity. The growth in LGBTQ+ YA lit in recent years, in all styles, is so important. Here’s to keeping the momentum going.
You can read my previous post,#SJYALit: How does real life and research fit with LGBT young adult lit?, here.
Look out for posts about LGBTQ YA lit in educational settings next, available late March! Thank you for reading.
Here are a few books to check out!
Black, H. (2015). The darkest part of the forest. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Danforth, E. M. (2012). The miseducation of Cameron Post. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Nelson, J. (2014). I’ll give you the sun. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Peters, J. A. (2003). Keeping you a secret. New York, NY: Little, Brown.
Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Here are a few related online articles to explore!
Meet Alex B.
Alex B is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!
Filed under: #SJYALit
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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