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.

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Comments 2

  1. It’s interesting to see that both Capetta and Sáenz are queer. This is different from Japan’s mostly straight female authors writing or drawing yaoi manga, also mostly targeted at young female readers.

    While I believe all writers should be able to fantasize and write outside their own sphere of experience, I think queer authors have more to say about the subject, and possibly a different way to say it and connect to the queer reader, than straight authors. I hope this trend lasts.

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