On Various Things YA

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Two recent happenings in the sphere of LGBT Young Adult books caught my interest, and I thought I’d share them here.

First, Lambda Literary Foundation announced they are starting a new venture for young adult readers on May 1st called My Story Book Club. According to their press release on their website:

As part of our LGBT Writers in Schools program and our growing mission to promote the acceptance of LGBT works, their authors and LGBT students in schools, we are launching a national online book club for LGBT youth. Lambda Literary Foundation, in partnership with the Gay/Straight Educators Alliance and the National Council of Teachers of English, aim to provide readers 14 years-old and up the opportunity to read and discover LGBT works in the safe and protective atmosphere of Goodreads

The forum will feature youth moderators and a monthly Q&A with an author as well as typical features like discussion boards, polls, and playlists. Upcoming guest authors include Cris Beam of the trans-themed I AM J, Sara Ryan (“two girls in love” EMPRESS OF THE WORLD) and Charles Rice-Rodriguez (Latino, gay coming-of-age CHULITO). All three of those titles are on my ever-growing ‘to-read’ list. Their reviews are stellar, and I love that My Story Book Club will be showcasing diverse queer fiction.

Elsewhere, a blog post by sci-fi YA author Paolo Bacigalupi on Kirkus Reviews, has generated a lively discussion about the place of queer characters in future dystopias. In considering the question of why there aren’t more gay and lesbian characters in the genre, Bacigalupi suggests that gay experiences are better portrayed through allegory than overt characterization, because it’s hard to imagine a future more “dystopic” than modern gay queer living.

Bacigalupi says his goal in writing a dystopia about being gay would be to “rattle” complacent straight readers into awareness and understanding. His criteria for a good dystopian story are that it be “insurgent.” The story should “illuminate the horrors right before our eyes,” and “build empathy and humanity.”

The statement he makes that became a bit of a lightning rod is:

“So instead of writing a story about being gay, create one about being straight. Create a world where heterosexuality is a shocking desire.”

Bloggers like Rebecca Rabinowitz were quick to respond that obliterating queer characters from dystopian tales confuses the point Bacigalupi purports to make, and I would agree.

Imagine Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD taken from the viewpoint of a gay father who is determined to protect his son in a post-apocalyptic world of starvation and cannibalism. The possibility of gay parenting transcending terrifying obstacles seems to meet Bacigalupi’s criteria of insurgency, empathy and humanity delightfully well. It makes readers re-think their notions of fatherhood, and provides a powerful queer representation for young adults.

(Allright, THE ROAD isn’t a YA novel, but it was the most accessible title I could think of).

Would a gay THE ROAD have a wide enough access point to reach the “complacent straight readers” Bacigalupi talks about? Probably not. But for many of us authors and fans of LGBT YA, I think, that perennial debacle–making LGBT stories “palatable” to a non-LGBT audience–is kind of tired and irrelevant. We like our queers in outer space, in Medieval-inspired fantasy lands, as well as confronting dilemmas of modern living. A fresh setting is nice, but the fact that we exist, and can exist everywhere is the greater part of our engagement in literature.

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