The rise of young adult books with LGBTQ characters

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When Amy Rose Capetta started writing her young adult novel “Echo After Echo,” she wasn’t sure if it would be embraced by the publishing industry.

Though she had already published two books, “Echo After Echo” was different: The mystery, set on Broadway in New York, features a romance between two teenage girls. As she searched for a publisher, Capetta, 34, said she was never explicitly told to tone down her characters’ sexuality, but she did wonder if editors who said they were “not able to connect” with the characters were really saying that the same-sex relationship might not appeal to straight readers.

“I wrote ‘Echo After Echo’ in breathless fear that I was tanking the career I’d been dreaming of and working toward,” she said. “That story took three years, which is a long time to be breathless.”

Yet instead of diminishing her career, “Echo After Echo,” which was published in 2017, did the opposite. It was a Junior Library Guild selection and established Capetta, who identifies as queer, as an LGBTQ young adult author. She’s scheduled to have three books published in 2019.

The market for YA books featuring protagonists who identify as LGBTQ is growing, as publishers and authors tap a rising demand among young readers for a broader diversity of characters and storylines.

Publishers including Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf said they do not track the number of YA books with LGBTQ protagonists, but they have observed an increase in the genre over the last few years.

“In years past, you would see a concentration of distribution in the institutional and education markets, as well as independent stores,” Justin Chanda, vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, wrote in an emailed statement. “Today, there are many, many books featuring LGBTQ+ characters being published in various genres that are being carried in large numbers by all accounts.”

Some of those books — including works by Amber Smith, Christina Lauren and Tim Federle — have become best-sellers. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 book “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” — a story about two Mexican-American boys navigating family relationships, race and sexuality — has been one of the Simon & Schuster’s best-selling backlist titles for the past several years, Chanda said.

Read on…

Pantomime

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In a land of lost wonders, the past is stirring once more… Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age.

Pantomime  by Laura Lam starts as the tale of two apparently unlinked young people: the young would-be trapeze artist Micah Grey, and the noblewoman who calls herself Gene who’s about to be married off, should her parents get their way.

These boy-girl dual storylines are increasingly common in YA so I assumed something along the lines of a love story, albeit an unusual one. But Laura Lam weaves her first surprise of many into the opening chapters, and we realise that Micah and Gene are the same person.

Micah is intersex, and this was exceptionally well demonstrated throughout the novel. The alternating stories got closer and closer to each other as the narrative continued. It also felt very natural to me: the fact that Micah is intersex didn’t stick out to me, and although it was obvious from things he said, it didn’t feel forced by the author.

Instead, Micah’s character simply unfolded: rather than seeming like Laura Lam just fancied writing about an intersex character, Pantomime had the rare yet wonderful concept of a protagonist that has been discovered instead of being created. As someone who is cisgender, it still felt extremely relatable, which can sometimes put people off reading queer books but needn’t do so.

Read on…

The History of Living Forever

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Jake Wolff’s debut novel The History of Living Forever is a science fiction story, a gay romance, and a Hardy Boys mystery all rolled into one. But the ultimate moral dilemma of its teenaged protagonist almost lifts the book above any specific genre.

At the centre of the story is Conrad, a high school student whose life is upended by the sudden death of his chemistry teacher and lover, Sammy, “the kind of guy who uses semicolons in text messages.”

Conrad was having an illicit affair with Sammy and his passing leaves the sensitive student reeling. After Sammy’s death, Conrad discovers his notebooks, which are filled with disjointed pieces of information about his search for an elixir of life. It is left to Conrad to pull these pieces together and complete Sammy’s work.

What could have been just a page-turning mystery is given poignancy by the stakes Conrad and his friend RJ have in discovering the elixir: each is out to save a family member from dying. The personal stories of Conrad and RJ encourage the reader to consider the ethical side of medicine we struggle with today. Who deserves to live? How much should we sacrifice of our own lives to advance medicine for the benefit of others? How long do we want to live?

Wolff consistently grounds the book in the science of the boys’ quest. He even presents us with case histories of real people, starting with Ge Hong, fourth-century scholar and first practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Especially in its second half, the novel is immersed in the experimental details of the potion. For those whose interest in science is limited to the broad strokes of political discourse, these descriptions may seem to bog the story down somewhat, but they’re essential to give credibility to Wolff’s fantastical plot.

Emphasizing science allows Wolff to wrestle with some weighty questions about how we live our lives: Do we follow the hard data of science? Our hearts? We ignore either at our peril, Wolff seems to tell us. Conrad reveals that his mother died when he was ten years old in a house fire caused by a burning cigarette. The fire inspector told the family that she “did everything wrong: she went up when you’re supposed to go down, she traveled toward the heat and not away from it.” The message is that she might have been spared if she had only obeyed the laws of science. And in a witty Author’s Note, Wolff reminds us not to play with science: “Every recipe in this book, if ingested, will kill you. Every single one.” He ends with the cliché, “Do not try this at home.”

In one of Sammy’s journals, we discover that he believes science might well serve the needs of our emotional well-being:

There is some way to treat everything at once…what the Greeks called panakeia, the all healing. My goal is not to live forever but to live happily—to figure out what happiness means.

Luckily most of the time the book manages to address the lofty issues it deals with without losing its ability to entertain.

Review via Lambda Literary

Yay! You’re gay! Now what?

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The light beneath the door of the closet is just a sliver. It’s enticing, though, and you’re eager to see what’s on the other side, finally ready to open that door and come out. In Yay! You’re Gay! Now What? a book for queer boys by Riyadh Khalaf, you’ll find some advice for doing it.

For awhile, months, maybe years, you’ve been “feeling different.” You think you might be gay and that’s “OK, it’s normal, and it’s not something you need to change.” Or you may be bi or pan or non-binary, “it simply comes down to how you feel” and it may have everything or nothing to do with the anatomy you got at birth. The thing to remember is that, “You cannot change who you are.”

This may cause a lot of worry, for yourself and for people you love. Recognize that anxiety before it goes wild and know how to break the cycle. Being gay, Khalaf says, is actually a “gift,” as you’ll eventually begin to see.

That’s a gift you can share or not, says Khalaf, because “you can come out whenever and however you want,” it’s your call. Yes, family members might freak out at first and your friends might retreat but you’ll find advice on how to cope with that and a reminder that “almost every relationship is salvageable.”

So let’s say you’re out, comfortable with it and you’re ready to find your first true love. It’s OK to go online and look but Khalaf says to be wary: you know how easy it is to pretend you’re someone you’re not when you’re on a computer, so be safe. Also be safe when you go to clubs or parties and remember that protecting your heart is important, too. Relationships can be different, your first kiss can be amazing and your body may respond in embarrassing ways to all of the above.

Here’s the first thing you’ll need to know about Yay! You’re Gay! Now What?: absolutely anyone can read it, including parents and allies, but it’s really geared toward gay teen boys and young men. Indeed, author Riyadh Khalaf includes pages expressly for those allies and parents, but later parts of the book are filled with valid information that may be more graphic than they’ll want.

Still, that info will speak directly to the heart and the health of young men just coming out in a way that’s not stuffy or clinical, but that’s more lightheartedly factual. Khalaf is gay and he uses his own personal anecdotes as tools to teach, but he’s not pious or pushy. Instead, there’s a whole lot of care and camaraderie in these pages, and the words “you are not alone” are not just written, they leap from each page.

Read more…

This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story

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This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by author Kheryn Callender focuses on the messy complexities of romance, friend-love and parental love in all of its frustrating, confusing forms.

Seattle-raised sixteen-year-old high school junior Nathan Bird, stuck mending a broken arm in the middle of the school year, is trying to navigate the world around him with the help of his best friend and ex-girlfriend Florence.

An aspiring filmmaker who’s afraid he has no real talent and who’s realistic about happy endings, Nate’s been avoiding anything approaching romance since Flo cheated on him with her current girlfriend, Lydia – a relationship that’s currently on the rocks.

Out of guilt, at least in part, for the end romantic relationship, Flo decides it’s her mission to help Nate lose his virginity before he turns seventeen, to his great embarrassment. Flo’s mission might come to fruition, for Nate is hiding a slowly developing crush on Oliver James Hernandez, a budding photographer and his former childhood best friend.

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is true to its title. It’s definitely an epic love story with ups and downs and many trials, both internal and external, for is main character Nathan.

The book is unabashedly queer and intersectional. It explores diversity as it relates to race, sex, socioeconomic status, deaf culture, and more.  If you love stories with a focus on relationships and all kinds of romance this book is for you. If you’re not into that kind of drama, it may not be completely your cup of tea.

Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities

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After becoming blind in his late 20s, Belo Miguel Cipriani found himself in search of disability stories. “As a gay teen,” he writes in his introduction:

I found great comfort in the writings of Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and Edmund White. So, it felt pretty natural to seek comfort in literature once I learned the rest of my life would be spent in darkness.

After countless hours of audiobooks, though, he was struck by “how little discussion there is of the rites of passage of people with disabilities.” This was the genesis for Firsts, his anthology of coming-of-age stories by writers with disabilities, published in October by Oleb Books. But Cipriani’s book does not simply tell the stories of how these writers’ disabilities happened, it tells about the firsts in their lives. Their firsts in independence, first jobs, schooling. Love. Sex. This review will focus on essays by three LGBTQ contributors to the anthology: Caitlin Hernandez, David-Elijah Nahmod, and Andrew Gurza.

“Star Words,” by David-Elijah Nahmod, begins with Nahmod’s early, relatively happy childhood in an Arab/Jewish family. “We were Jews but we were also Arabs,” he writes. “We were hardly the All-American, Caucasian family my parents fervently believed themselves to be.” Upsetting this life is Nahmod’s enthusiasm for a movie musical, which leads his parents to believe (correctly) that he’s gay. As Nahmod puts it, “I was branded for life.” In 1964, at the age of eight, he was committed to a Children’s Psychiatric Ward at the advice of a rabbi. During three months in the hospital, he was treated with Thorazine (now banned for use on children) and received electroconvulsive therapy. This left Nahmod, in his words, “an emotional wreck.”

A fascination with TV and movies just may have saved him. It motivated him to interview a disabled cast member of the TV show Passions, who became a big inspiration to Nahmod. And in spite of a discomfort with crowds, Nahmod has carved out a career as a writer and interviewer.

Caitlin Hernandez’ essay, “Landmines,” follows her efforts to find love and sex despite her blindness. Much of her essay is also about a male friend, to whom she becomes close. As they are both gay, the relationship is, to say the least, complicated:

The hopelessness of the situation was, to my mind, absolute. We’d each loved both men and women but I’d been with more women and he’d been with more men. He was excited and carefree about love; I was frightened and cautious.

Nonetheless, there are touching, loving, and funny moments between them, such as going to a concert where she sits behind a pillar (“I figured you wouldn’t mind taking one for the team,” her friend says), walking and talking together, and eventually, making love. “I’d taken a chance,” she writes, “a wild, graceless leap off a long-feared precipice—and not only was I intact, I was better for having leapt.”

Andrew Gurza’s essay, “Baring It All,” is at times funny and at times brutal in its story of Gurza leaving home for college and his quest for sex. This is another difference in Firsts: most books do not talk about people with disabilities having sex lives. This one does. Gurza opens the essay describing the routines his caregivers would go through to bathe and dress him daily, and how being naked in front of other people was something he had become used to living with cerebral palsy.

“I wanted so badly to be touched in a way that was different than I had ever been before,” he writes. “In my head I had fantastical daydreams of being swept up out of my wheelchair feverishly and undressed by a beautiful man who wanted me just as much as I wanted him.”

He makes contact online with someone, laying bare his desires and his disability. The resulting encounter is everything Gurza wished for, but it comes to a shattering conclusion, one that eventually changes him. “Ultimately, though, being naked for the first time with a man was a stepping stone for me as a queer, disabled man,” he says.

Cipriani’s anthology is at times entertaining, but it is moments like these that make it truly inspirational. The essays in Firsts are a well-written blend of funny, sad, informative, and ultimately life-affirming personal stories, and the collection is recommended highly.

via Lambda Literary

Many banned books in the U.S. challenged for queer content

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More than half of the top 11 most frequently challenged and banned books of 2018 include LGBTQ content, according to a report released Monday by the American Library Association.

“Books for youth with LGBTIQ+ content are consistently on our list of most challenged books; this trend goes back to the mid-1990’s, when Nancy Garden’s ‘Annie on my Mind’ was banned by a school board in Texas,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, interim director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “That said, we are noticing a greater number of challenges to books with LGBTIQ+ content, especially those that have transgender characters and themes.”

In 2017, four of the top 10 banned books were challenged for LGBTQ content, and in 2016, five were challenged for this reason.

George,” a coming-of-age story by Alex Gino, topped this year’s list. The award-winning, young-adult novel is about a transgender girl coming to terms with her gender identity. This is the third consecutive year “George” made the ALA’s “Most Challenged Books” list, which is part of the association’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report.”

According to the report, “George” has been repeatedly “banned, challenged, and relocated” because it’s “believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones.” The ALA also noted there were complaints about the book for “mentioning ‘dirty magazines,’ describing male anatomy, ‘creating confusion,’ and including a transgender character.”

Read on…

More Happy Than Not

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Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera’s debut More Happy Than Not confronts race, class, and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again—but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

More Happy Than Not is, in the simplest interpretation, a novel of self-acceptance, a description that surely attaches to 90 percent of all young adult fiction ever written. But it also tells us something else: that misery, while it is always available to be romanticized (and, of course, romanticizing misery remains a default position for countless 15-year-olds), is at the same time something that cannot be disposed of.

That sounds as if it might lead to trite messaging along the lines of “All that makes us suffer makes us stronger.” But what Silvera is saying is different, and profound: Hardship should always be kept close, so that we know happiness when we find it.

The New York Times

J.K. Rowling can’t stop spilling tea about Dumbledore’s sex life

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J.K. Rowling just can’t stop making her wizarding world seem more diverse and progressive than it really was in her books and films. In her latest attempt she said Albus Dumbledore and Fantastic Beasts villain Gellert Grindelwald had a ‘passionate’ love affair. Something that was barely hinted at in her works.

Even long-time fans are tired of Rowling shenanigans. And they’re letting her know as you can see in some of the tweets below…

Rowling’s comments come after Fantastic Beasts picked up criticism for skirting the subject of the romance between the two characters. In the film, Dumbledore hints that the pair were “closer than brothers,” and one flashback sequence featured a homoerotic moment between the lovers.

However, the plot was largely sidelined in the film, leading to accusations that it was being downplayed to allow the blockbuster’s release in overseas markets that forbid depictions of same-sex relationships.

Carry On

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Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Simon, an orphaned magician whose power is so immense that he is mostly inept at wielding it, returns to Watford School of Magicks for his final year of education in the magical arts. He has a talented, stalwart friend, a fascinatingly ambiguous foe, and a complicated, emotionally unavailable mentor. There is a great battle between good and evil. But there are also mobile phones, contemporary slang and pop-culture references, and gay romance.

The book is less preoccupied with the trappings of wizard life than it is focused on the relationships of the characters. The narrative perspective, shifting among Simon and his supporters and opponents, gives voice to their deeper motivations and angst; the dialogue, both internal and external, is contemporary and occasionally profane, with an authentic level of teenage snark.

The novel playfully twists genre conventions—there are plenty of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments to satisfy faithful fantasy readers—but it also stands alone as a (very) modern novel. Read more at NPR.