Posts Tagged ‘ya lit’

A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.

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MLABooklist-LiteratureOUTLoudToday I gave a workshop at the 2012 Michigan Library Association Annual Conference called “Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens.”  The workshop went spectacularly and I plan on writing about it in greater depth soon, but I had some requests that I share the book list I gave out and discussed during the workshop so I thought I would make a quick post sharing it.  It says this on the book list, but I’d like to just reiterate that this list is not meant to be a list of the best young adult literature for trans youth, it is a list on the existing young adult literature for trans youth and there are some titles on there that I cannot or would not endorse.  This is derived from a list I created on GoodReads which I have added to over time and which has also grown via crowd-sourcing over the year+ since I created it.  Some titles are omitted from this list but I tried to omit titles on the basis of them either being a) not teen/ya books or b) not featuring trans characters, rather than based on quality, but the list on GoodReads is ever expanding so I would recommend checking that out too.

I encourage readers to please feel free to use this list however you would like (I would prefer that you use it for good), but I ask that you please try to credit me if you use it when possible/appropriate.

Book List: Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens

*Edit: the link has been updated to include the correct author for Being Emily by Rachel Gold (see comments below)

Authors

Posted: November 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The author of this really messed up book I just slammed in a review on PrettyQueer found the review and commented on it! Kind of awkward seeing as my sentiments about the book were along the lines of, “reading this book will actively make your life worse and you should probably just skip it.”

While I stand behind my review one thousand percent and still wish I could find even more ways to say negative things about that book within the context of YA lit involving trans characters, the part of me that hates confrontation and doesn’t want to make people feel bad feels a little bad. At the same time, the part of me that wants to shape the world of YA lit with trans characters into something better than the mess it currently is feels awesome and powerful for reaching the author of a book I really had a lot to say about.

My second YA book review came out on PrettyQueer yesterday.  It’s on Luna, by Julie Anne Peters.

10 points to anyone who can tell me what that awesome/weird/creepy insect thing at the top of the page is.  A friend suggested it was some magical combination between a golden snitch and a bee.  I wonder if it is some sort of moth or butterfly.  What do you think?  I’m intrigued in a can’t-look-away sort of sense.  (Oh, and you should read the review at some point before or after telling me about the bug too!)

I just read this article about attempted erasure of LGBTQ characters, as well as characters of color and characters with disabilities, in YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and I think you should read it too.

As a reader and a lover of sci-fi and fantasy (though I’m certain this happens in other genres too), this makes me really sad and frustrated.  The characters I want to read about exist, but I have no way to access them because they are being watered down into straight, white characters with no disabilities to please, well, straight, white readers with no disabilities.

It was so frustrating as a teen to have to go to a special section whenever I wanted to read about a character who was different.  I fully appreciate the fact that LGBtQ YA fiction (we’re working on doing something about the “t,” at least I am) is now becoming it’s own genre, don’t get me wrong, it’s an important genre and I am thankful it exists.  But as a teen, I always wanted to read a regular book that was not about the struggles of being queer, but where a queer character experiences something other than simply coming out, coming to terms with being queer, being bullied for being queer, etc.  Couldn’t a character deal with the reality of being queer while solving mysteries, playing sports, traveling through time or slaying dragons?  The message is, that if you are queer, the only story you have to tell is about being queer, and that’s all you’re worth–all you could possibly want in life is to come to terms with being queer and then go on to live a normal, peaceful, boring life.  That’s all queer people are, that’s all queer people are worth, queer people do not strive for excellence, we strive for the mundane.

As a library student interested in working with teens, this frustrates me too.  I want to develop collections and recommend books to teens that represent a diverse range of characters.  Having a strong collection of books that deal with LGBTQ issues and other issues which face diverse populations is really important to me, and when I have my own collections, this is something that will take priority and will represent small but substantial neighborhoods of my collection that I offer some level of priority which overrides simple market-based factors like circulation stats because, well, every time those books circulate is likely a million times more important and life-changing to the reader than other books.

But at the same time, that really sucks, to think that it’s okay to have diverse characters in books that, though intended for everyone, will probably only circulate well amongst people who are like the characters they describe (ie, books about queer teens will circulate with queer teens, books about teens with disabilities will circulate amongst teens with disabilities, etc).  Why would I want to give straight teens only books about straight teens, or teens without disabilities only books about teens without disabilities or white teens only books about white teens?  What kind of message does that send about what equals quality literature?  And I don’t really think it’s the teens who even care about this, it’s their parents!