Exploring LGBT Themes in YA Lit & Everyday Library Life

Archive for the ‘secondary character’ 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: 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: Crewel

Release Date: 16 October 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 7 & up

Adelice’s parents spent 16 years training her–to fail.  Where other parents would have encouraged her natural talent, Adelice’s parents have taught her clumsiness and purposeful ignorance so that she can avoid the ever-watchful eye of the Guild.  But one slip-up during testing and they find her anyway.  Because her family runs, she’s marked as a traitor, but her raw talent and natural ability make it impossible for the Guild to get rid of her.  As she discovers the layers of control and power that the Guild and the Coventries have over Arras, Adelice unearths stirrings of discontent and begins to discover that the reality of her world is much different than what she was taught.  In a stunning blend of science fiction and fantasy, Gennifer Alblin weaves a fascinating world where power and control are in the hands of a few and the fragile tapestry of the world is susceptible and malleable.  This fast-paced story will have high appeal for fans of dystopian novels.  The world-building is paced perfectly so that the world is revealed in just the right amounts at the right times, and the story is woven with immense creativity that is sure to ensnare many readers.

Crewel was not a book that I started reading with this particular project in mind, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon LGBT themes in this book.  Crewel enters the YA genre as a new entry that incorporates LGBTQ themes in a “non-issue” sort of way.  Included in the narrative of the book is a secret lesbian relationship and combined with that are the dystopian rulers’ views on why this type of deviant behavior is “bad.” I loved the main character’s reaction to discovering the relationship and the actions that follow.  This, I hope, is part of the future of YA literature that incorporates more diversity (including diversity of sexuality!) into stories without becoming a book centered on that specific topic (i.e. not an “issue” book).

*This copy of Crewel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.com for honest consideration*

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.

Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Release Date: 1 March 2012
Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 8 & up

Kelsey Finkelstein intends to have the PERFECT freshman year, but the 9 months that follow her foray into the dramatic world of high school are anything BUT perfect. After a long series of mishaps stretch from soccer tryouts to the prom, Kelsey is ready for freshman year to be over. Kelsey’s token sarcasm, humor, and general flair for the dramatic make her a likable character. Zeitlin’s debut novel offers an honest portrayal of the realities of high school: friends, parties, drinking, drugs, dating, family. While drinking and drugs make their appearances, they aren’t glamorized in such a way as to encourage teens to try it out for fun. Drinking is accompanied by nausea and drugs by arrest. A light-hearted read that’s sure to endear itself to many teenage and older readers.

Zeitlin’s debut novel incorporates a coming-out story into the back-drop of a bigger narrative about life and growing up.  The focus of Zeitlin’s story is relationships, especially that of three best friends as they venture into the uncharted waters of high school.  Kelsey, Cass, and JoJo are a tight trio of friends who experience their share of bumps as they begin high school.  Kelsey and Cass suspect that JoJo might be gay but don’t want to rush her when it comes to telling them. JoJo, it turns out, simply couldn’t find the right way to tell her friends her secret.  The portrayal of friendship and the difficult decision to share that kind of secret with them is portrayed well, despite the fact that it comes from a secondary character.  While the potentially larger ramifications of JoJo’s revelation to a broader audience (family, school, community) are not explored, it seems sufficient in this setting and story to know that her friends love and accept her for who she is, no matter what.

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