Exploring LGBT Themes in YA Lit & Everyday Library Life

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.


October is LGBT History Month and a perfect time to showcase your LGBT collection and show that your library and collection value all types of diversity.

Background (from LGBT History Month):

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association, and other national organizations. In 2006, Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month.

Find a way to celebrate this diversity at your library! Plan a book discussion group around an LGBT title. Invite an author who writes about LGBT characters or is LGBTQ to come and speak. Plan a program that talks about services for teens and opens discussion. Make book lists. Plan displays. Make a bookmark. As with any special programming, it can be as involved as you want it to be, but take advantage of the opportunity to showcase this part of your collection!

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*

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.

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.

Release Date: 15 March 2012
Publisher: Viking Children’s
Reading/Interest Level: Grades 8 & up

Jesse stands out at her high school.  With her fisherman’s boots, self-done haircuts, and no nonsense attitude, she almost revels in her outsider status, not caring how the world sees her.  She has no secrets–except Emily.  Emily is you typical star student with her good grades, student government leadership position, and career-woman internship–but Jesse is her secret.  Their secret rendezvous in the library bathroom are a happy moment for both of them, but Emily has a boyfriend and an image to maintain that an entanglement with Jesse would upheave. However, Jesse is starting to grow up and she wants more than a secret library bathroom romance…if you can call it a romance.  They may very well be in love, but their secret and their political viewpoints are tearing them apart. In a quirky story of growing up and learning to respect yourself, Madeleine George has woven a tale of what’s it’s like to be “out” in high school and to come to learn to have the respect for yourself not to hide behind false pretenses.  The Difference Between You and Me offers a good perspective on friendships, acquaintances, and family relationships without every seeming to beat you over the head with a preachy message. The alternating POVs at times seem disjointed due to shifts between first and third person narrative and may detract from the enjoyment of some readers.

The Difference Between You and Me brings an interesting perspective on contemporary romance to the table.  The main character, Jesse, is already out as gay and has been for quite some time.  That fact in itself was refreshing because it turned the table on the story from being a coming-out narrative to a relatable growing-up narrative.  While the story is told from the point of views of both Jesse and Emily, Jesse comes solidly to the forefront as the main character with the most change throughout, while Emily refuses to come out of the closet (or the bathroom, as the case may be) and upset her perfectly crafted image.  Both girls offer the reader a perspective on being gay or bisexual in high school and the personal decisions and potential upheaval associated with that revelation.  Jesse’s family dynamic is worth mentioning as well because this story lacks the absentee parents that are often portrayed in YA fiction.  Jesse’s parents are very much a part of her life, helping her through difficult moments and punishing her when appropriate.  Overall, this was a fun, quirky read but it may need a little TLC and promotion to move off your library shelves as the cover isn’t likely to do it all on its own.

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