Exploring LGBT Themes in YA Lit & Everyday Library Life

Archive for the ‘YA Lit’ 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: Ask the Passengers

Release Date: 23 October 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

Astrid’s life in small town Pennsylvania may seem perfect from the outside, but on the inside, it’s a mess of secrets. Astrid spends her days keeping secrets–both her own and those of her friends–and many hours laying on a picnic table sending love to strangers flying through the sky. As Astrid’s feelings for another young woman grow deeper, she is unsure how to deal with them, both internally and externally. Her parents would never understand and her friends might be too understanding, especially when she isn’t sure what it all means yet. Through Astrid’s character, Ms. King deftly portrays those moments when adolescents come to question their sexuality but aren’t necessarily ready to embrace it. Feelings aren’t cut-and-dry and choices aren’t black-and-white.

Ask the Passengers is a frank, honest examination of learning to accept who you are and how you feel.  It’s about rebelling against both conformity and rebellion because you don’t fit in either place.  King’s novel felt like a breath of fresh air that reveals intricate complexities of being a teenager and coming to terms with your sexuality.  It’s not a black and white world, even though many people often try to see it that way, and Ask the Passengers clearly examines the gray areas. Astrid’s questioning of her sexuality seemed very realistic, and I think that many teens will relate to her questioning and unwillingness to define it definitely and put a societally expected label on it.

Review: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Release Date: 8 October 2012
Publisher: Flux
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 7 & up

Gabe may have been born and grown up as Liz, but deep down he has always known that he is definitely not a girl.  As high school graduation approaches, he begins to make plans for transitioning from Liz to Gabe.  Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to get others to see what’s on the inside when the outside doesn’t match.  As Gabe puts himself out there through his radio show and starts to imagine a future without the shadow of Liz hanging over his head, complications and heartbreak set the stage for questioning and a hefty dose of reality. Set amid a cast of both loveable and irritating characters, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children captures a lot of what it must be like to struggle to come out as transgendered–not just for that person but for his or her loved ones.  Ms. Cronin-Mills has crafted a cast of supporting characters, from parents who are really trying and a mostly accepting best friend to the cooler-than-cool next-door-neighbor who’s there for Gabe through it all, who all have important roles to play as Gabe learns that he must accept and love himself before he can convince the world to do likewise.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children tackles a difficult subject and does so masterfully.  Ms. Cronn-Mills takes on transitioning from female to male and the many difficulties associated with that change, especially after 18 years of living or being forced to live as a female, and puts it into the perspective of Liz/Gabe–who is out to his parents, best friend, and (eventually) neighbor and anxiously awaiting the end of high school so that he can transition to the person he is meant to be.  The path is not at all easy and the book tackles a lot of difficult facets–from being bullied to gaining the acceptance of friends and family.  It’s clearly not an easy road for anyone involved and Ms. Cronn-Mills didn’t shy away from those aspects.  Acceptance wasn’t sugar-coated or made to seem easy, and readers will appreciate that honestly.

Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Release Date: 7 February 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 9 & up

When Cameron Post’s parents are killed in a car accident, her first thought is gratitude that they will never know that the day before she was kissing another girl. Cameron knows that she is supposed to like boys but she would rather just hang-out and party with them, not kiss and date them.  When an evening tryst with a close friend leads to the revelation of her sexuality to her aunt, Cameron is immediately sent to God’s Promise, a religious boarding school that claims to cure homosexuality and its underlying causes.  Through new friendships, Cameron comes to terms with who she is and learns that you can’t always be who other people want you to be.  The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a realistic tale of both prejudice and self-acceptance woven through the common experiences of loss, first love, and friendship.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post sets out to tell a story–not to hit you over the head with its MESSAGE.  The story holds wide appeal because it is well-written and would honestly be just as enjoyable of a story if the protagonist was not gay and was instead sent away because of her drug use. Having Cameron as the narrator of the story makes it all the better because the reader is allowed to struggle alongside her through her journey of self-acceptance. While you don’t always like her and the choices she makes, it is often her mistakes and foibles that make her such an enjoyable main character.

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.

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