Exploring LGBT Themes in YA Lit & Everyday Library Life

Archive for the ‘M/M’ Category

Review: Winger


Release Date: 14 May 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 8 & up

Ryan Dean West, known by some as West and by his teammates as Winger, is a 14-year-old boarding school junior. Younger than all his classmates and sentenced to O Hall–where the “bad” kids are sent–West must tackle his junior year head on.  From crushing on his best friend Annie to being subjected to “The Consequence” after losing at poker, West/Winger will keep you laughing from page one.  Smith’s writing creates a very genuine character who gives you a glimpse into the lives of teen boys–from friendship and love to sports and getting in trouble.

Winger isn’t an in-your-face tackling of LGBT issues but rather a subtle inclusion and a glimpse into what friendship means.  West’s friend and fellow O Hall occupant happens to be gay but his rugby teammates accept him for who he is and stand up to others when they don’t.  Without spoiling the novel for readers, I feel like I can’t and shouldn’t share anymore about the LGBT aspect of this story but know this–it’s solid and heart-breaking.


Review: The Culling

CullingRelease Date: 8 March 2013
Publisher: Flux
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

On Recruitment Day, Lucian “Luck” Sparks is forced to become a pawn in the Trials–a set of tests forced upon 5 Recruits by the totalitarian Establishment.  The penalty for losing a trial–the choice of having someone close to you killed.  For Lucky, that means his younger brother Cole is at risk and he’ll do anything to keep him safe–he’ll be ruthless, brave, and ultimately, deny himself the love staring him in the face the whole time.  With it’s Battle Royale storyline, The Culling is not a story for the faint of heart.  It will tug at each and every one of your heartstrings along the way while simultaneously taunting you to close the book when the going gets tough.  Steven dos Santos’ world is cruel, dark, and dangeous.

When I first stumbled upon The Culling on Goodreads, my first reaction was this: “FINALLY!!!!” There is a lot of room in the dystopian landscape for LGBT characters and yet it is a vastly unexplored possibility.   What I liked most about the LGBT aspect of this book was the fact that the main character’s sexuality was really a non-issue.  It is what it is.  No one harasses him because of it–it’s just an accepted fact.  It’s not the reason that he’s chosen for the Trials.  It’s not used against him during them.  It just is.  He stands solidly in the center of an all male semi-love triangle and that part makes this refreshing.  While the story itself isn’t new (although perhaps a bit darker), the inclusion of an LGBT main character felt flawless.  The author didn’t try to make it more than it was and I appreciated that.

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.

Review: Speechless

Release Date: 28 August 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 7 & up

Hannah Harrington’s sophomore offering deftly tackles social issues in an emotional and thought-provoking read.  Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Knot is a gossip of the highest order and it’s this part of her nature that’s kept her at the top of the social ladder.  But Chelsea learns the hard way that her words can cause harm.  Stunned by the consequences of spilling someone else’s secret, Chelsea takes a vow of silence to learn to think before she speaks.  As she silently deals with the fallout of her actions, falling from the top of the social ladder to the bottom, she finds that actions can speak louder than words and there are people who will appreciate her for who she really is.  Harrington’s writing creates a sympathetic character whose actions and thoughts the reader quickly becomes immersed in.  While the ending ties up lose strings perhaps a bit to cleanly,  the lessons learned and the well-crafted story address important issues for today.

Speechless tackles LGBT issues from a different angle tackling bullying in high schools geared toward LGBT students.  Harrington’s sophomore novel doesn’t push the issue to the back-burner after the initial fallout.  The main character is forced to deal with the fact that her words caused someone else to get hurt throughout.  When she eventually breaks her vow of silence, it is at the defense of another gay student.  This novel has a message that is increasingly important to share with teens in our world today, where too many students have felt trapped by bullying because of their sexual orientation.

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: Don’t Let Me Go

Release Date: 27 December 2011
Publisher: Kensington
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 10 & up

Nate and Adam have a great relationship. They’re out and they’re happy.  When Adam gets an offer to pursue his dream in New York, Nate tells him to go, but once Adam is gone, the decision doesn’t seem like such a good one anymore.  With Adam by his side, Nate starts to falter and a lot of things start to go downhill.  Between difficulties at school with the administration and jealousy over Adam’s new roommate, Nate has a hard time keeing things together.  Nate and Adam’s relationship is messy and difficult, but readers will find that makes the story all the more honest and heart-wrenching.  The characters’ flaws make them the type that you connect to on an almost painful level and their struggles and decisions will start to affect the reader on an often personal level. Readers looking for a messy, honest kind of romance need look no further as Don’t Let Me Go is as heart-breaking as it gets.

Don’t Let Me Go falls into what I would call the “New Adult” level of books featuring older protagonists, with out main character Nate being a senior and his boyfriend having just graduated.  It’s actually refreshing to read about characters this age because I feel like there are certain things you can do with the content when your narrators are just a little older.  Don’t Let Me Go definitely tackles the issues associated with being gay and coming out, but it also really tackles normal “relationship issues,” like misunderstandings and jealousy and reads much like a traditional romance novel with non-traditional characters.  While in public libraries this is often shelved with adult novels, I think that for older teens this is a great read to promote because it offers up an open, honest portrayal of the “issues” commonly associated with coming out in high school.

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Release Date: 1 February 1999
Publisher: MTV Books
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

Starting his first year of high school, Charlie already considers himself a bit of an outsider.  His older brother was a football star and always in the spotlight and his older sister has her fair share of drama, but Charlie has always simply blended into the background–that is, until one day, Sam and Patrick take notice of him and invite him into their circle.  Their friendship is freely given, but Charlie, who has always been a wallflower, isn’t always sure how to handle it.  Awkward encounters frequently pursue as the story tackles the high school social scene from all ends, including dances, friends, girlfriends, drinking, drugs, sexuality, abuse, break-ups, and the naivete of adolescence.  The book tackles a wealth of important issues that many teens deal with on a daily basis without taking on a preachy tone, which readers will appreciate. The narrative is stark and honest and the final reveal of Charlie’s past will leave you gasping for air.  Charlie’s story is one that could be told of just about any normal high school freshman trying to find their place in the world.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a newer book but attention on it has been renewed as a result of the recently released movie version starring Logan Lerman, Erza Miller, and Emma Watson. Teens and adults are, not surprisingly, clamoring to read this book now, either before or after they see the movie.  Renewed interest in the story gives the library a perfect reason to integrate this book into displays and programs.  LGBT issues come in to play with Patrick, Charlie’s new friend, who happens to be gay.  Patrick is the kind of teenager who is open about his sexuality, but he has fallen into a closed-door relationship with another boy who is not out and probably never will be.  While Patrick’s story may not be the main storyline, as Charlie’s friend we see first-hand how Patrick’s situation gets out of control and where it comes to affect the main character.

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