Exploring LGBT Themes in YA Lit & Everyday Library Life

Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

Review: Shine

Release Date: 1 May 2011
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

Because of a traumatic incident, Cat has isolated herself from her friends and family for the past three years.  However, when her gay best friend is found beat up and left for dead in a gas station parking lot, Cat sets out to find the culprit of the terrible hate crime.  While the authorities suspect out-of-towners, Cat is convinced that the guilty party is someone closer to home.  As she reinserts herself into the lives of those in her small hill-town Southern community, she comes to realize that everyone has secrets.  The key will be discovering whose secret revolves around Patrick’s beating.  Told in a richly atmospheric manner, Shine skillfully tells a tale of both self-discovery and regret.  The characters face tough choices and the realistic situations that Cat encounters will ring true with teenage readers.

Shine tackles the issue of bullying and hate crimes set in a town portrayed as very hill-country Southern and stereotypically backwards.  The issue of bullying is one that is particularly important today and I felt like this book really tackled the extreme potential of letting bullying get out of hand.  Ms. Myracle offers a perspective on prejudice and hate without seeming to hit you over the head with a morality tale rooted in religious beliefs or something of that nature.  To top it off, the story is simply beautifully written.

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Review: I Am J

Release Date: 1 March 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

J may have been born a girl, but inside he’s most definitely a boy.  Growing up, J believed that someday everyone else would realize it too and things come be more normal, but life doesn’t always go as planned.  As J begins to find ways to cope with and cover up his increasingly feminine body, he must find the strength to let in those who love him and find his own path to happiness.  Through a grueling process of self-discovery and acceptance, J discovers what it really means to be yourself and what it will take for him to get there.  I Am J is an important coming-of-age novel written with impressive insight into the world of a transgendered teenager. J is a dynamic, vivid character whose story is eye-opening and heartfelt.  The narrative is believable and effective as a result and readers are sure to find themselves wholly immersed in J’s struggle to prove “My gender’s not a lie. I am not a lie.” 

I Am J is an important story that I, personally, found engaging and eye-opening.  As one of only two books that I’ve read about transgendered teens, I think that it’s crucial for librarians to be aware of those books that do exist to tell these teens’ stories. It’s important for both questioning teens and their peers to read stories such as these in order to experience on some level the diversity that exists in their world, whether they are aware of it or not.

Review: Adaptation

Release Date: 18 September 2012
Publisher: Little Brown BFYR
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 8 & up

When birds begin crashing into planes and planes begin crashing, Reese and David are stranded at the airport with their debate coach after a failed debate tournament. Embarking on a journey that will take any number of unexpected turns, the three leave the airport and all too soon become just two. Reese and David are left alone to navigate the road home and meet their demise in a car accident involving a bird.  Twenty-seven days later the two wake up in classified military hospital with explicit instructions and a non-disclosure agreement that says they can’t tell anyone where they’ve been.  When they get home, both Reese and David experience strange side-effects from whatever treatments they received from the hospital.  When Reese meets Amber, she is just starting to hope that life can return to some kind of normal, but life is never that easy.  Full of government conspiracies, alien DNA, and budding romances, Malinda Lo presents readers with a science fiction novel that will have wide appeal.  Comparisons with X-Files comes easily and fans of government conspiracies and extraterrestrial possibilities will devour this fast-paced novel.

Malinda Lo is one author whose works come to mind automatically when considering teen fiction with LGBT protagonists.  While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read Ash, I’m well aware that it is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella and after getting a taste of her writing with Adaptation, I can’t wait to read it. Adaptation is another novel that doesn’t focus on the LGBT aspect of the character’s relationship.  While Reese’s best friend and conspiracy extraordinaire, Julian, plays the role of gay best friend, Reese herself discovers after meeting Amber that she’s not necessarily entirely straight.  That aspect of the story is woven in seamlessly and doesn’t ever turn the novel into an issue type of book.  Instead, the characters’ relationships are woven into a well-written, fast-paced science fiction novel.  There are a lot of opportunities to incorporate a book like this into programming, whether passively into science fiction or diversity displays or actively into book talks, book clubs, or other science fiction programming.

Review: Gone, Gone, Gone

Release Date: 17 April 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

A year after the tragedy of 9/11, the Washington D.C. area was hit by a string of shootings later referred to as the Beltway Sniper Shootings.  In the midst of the tragedy of the shootings, Craig and Lio are trying to make sense of their post-9/11 lives. While both of them were affected deeply by 9/11, their experiences were vastly different.  Their new friendship is the one thing holding them together in the midst of this new tragedy–their only true reality is that they are happiest when they are together.  As their quiet friendship blossoms into more, the two boys must find a new path out of their dark pasts. Moskowitz’s well-written prose guides the reader into and through the lives of two boys living through the aftermath and reality of events that we all witnessed.  The story is about both the events after and during which it takes place as well as the beauty and complexity of human relationships and experiences.  Told with quiet intensity, Gone, Gone, Gone will appeal to a wide audience of readers drawn to books with subtle emotional complexity.

Gone, Gone, Gone is another offering from popular YA author Hannah Moskowitz, bringing an LGBT relationship into the forefront of a well-developed story.  The magic of the book is how compelling the story remains, regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters or their relationship developments.  While their relationship plays a central role, it’s portrayed in a manner that makes it a beautiful relationship regardless of sexual orientation.  Their relationship is more about the complexities of their backgrounds and finding the common grounds upon which to stand and the differences and weaknesses where they can and often must rely on each other.  Gone, Gone, Gone strikes me as a book with enduring themes and would incorporate well into displays and programs focused on 9/11 or on diversity.  Take you pick of where and how to promote it but definitely find a way to guide readers to this one.

Review: Aristotle & Dante

Release Date: 21 February 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

Aristotle Mendoza is a bit of a loner—fifteen years old and no friends. When Dante Quintana offers to teach him to swim one summer, an unbreakable bond of friendship is made on the spot. The two boys spend the summer playing in the streets, making up games to trash their tennis shoes, and rescuing injured birds. Their bonds of friendship are tested by love, heartache, separation, and pain, but through it all, they manage to stay friends. A shift in their relationship will leave both of them questioning what’s right and what you should and shouldn’t be ashamed of. Saenz’s writing moves the story along at a leisurely summer pace that despite its slow introduction moves the boys’ relationship along at a believable speed. The ups and downs of being an adolescent boy are portrayed in a very real manner as is the process of self-discovery that each boy undergoes in the progression from friendship to something more. While the book lacks a solid traditional plot, the characters create a beautiful story of what acceptance truly means.

The true message that Saenz’s beautiful book is that of acceptance–both of others and of yourself. This book is a great addition to high school and public library titles and fits the bill when it comes to books that prominently feature diverse characters.  In the case of Ari and Dante, the book includes the experiences of being Mexican-American and being gay. This book would work well in a number of library displays or programs, including diversity, Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15), or LGBT History Month (Oct).  It would also be a great book for teaching tolerance and acceptance in the high school setting.

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