From author Malinda Lo, to publisher Arthur A. Levine, to librarian Arla Jones, eight Young Adult Lit experts give us 8 trends to look for in LGBTQ Teen Fiction. The results show a slight evolution in the way American teens are reading from how they consume their texts (download anyone?) to Vampire fatigue (shh, don’t tell Little, Brown) to Coming Out as pansexual, bisexual and asexual. Oh, you’re gay? That’s so last year.

MALINDA LO, author of “Ash,” a finalist for the 2010 William C. Morris Award.

I think that paranormal is still really hot, even if some people are getting vampire fatigue. One thing that is starting to hit is fallen angels, and there’s also been a steady stream of post-apocalyptic/dystopic sci fi. But honestly, the biggest trend that will never die is teen girls’ continuing love for romance — romance is huge. For LGBT teens — at least the ones I’ve spoken to — they also love these genres, but of course, they love them even more when there’s a solid LGBT main character in the book. I don’t think a coming-out story is necessary, but a realistic (even in fantasy or sci fi!) LGBT character is.

NICK BURD, is the award-winning author of “The Vast Fields of Ordinary”

I think we’re going to see gay characters represented like real people. No more cliches; no more flaming best friend who’s there solely for his witty remarks about eyeliner. I think it’s becoming clearer that gay hardships are human hardships, and there are beautiful ways that they inform each other. This sort of emotional recognition is at the foundation of all great literature.

SARA RYAN, is the award-winning author of “Empress of the World” and “The Rules for Hearts”

I’m not sure if two books qualifies as a trend — but two excellent and very different YA titles I’ve read recently feature queer characters you could nominate for Best Supporting Actor: Dylan from Nina LaCour’s “Hold Still,” and Paul from “Tales of the Madman Underground” by John Barnes. Both Dylan and Paul are fully three-dimensional characters, far more than stereotypical “gay best friends” — though in both books, their friendships with the protagonists are important to the plot. I think and hope that we’ll see more YA books with both main and supporting queer characters whose sexual identity is significant, but not central to their role in the story.

LEE WIND, maintains the award-winning blog, “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What
the Hell do I Read?”

Teen novels are so much about the character’s “coming of age”—and because figuring out who you are attracted to and what that means is such a part of coming of age, I think we’re always going to have “Coming Out” novels.  What we are starting to see in the last couple of years are stories where Coming Out is not the only thing going on — it’s part of a bigger story.  Genre stories like Hayden Thorne’s Gay superhero series “Masks,” Steve Berman’s Gay Ghost story “Vintage,” and Alex Sanchez’ Do-I-Have-To-Choose-Between-Being-Gay-And-God “The God Box” are pushing GLBTQ Teen Novels in new directions, all while still telling gripping coming of age/coming out stories.  As a writer, I think it’s great to ask yourself, “Where can I take this that’s new — where I can put my own unique voice into it?”  That’s what Ellen Hopkins did with including Queer main characters in “Tricks,” and what Malinda Lo did with her retelling of Cinderella, “Ash.”

ALEX SANCHEZ, author of the award-winning books “Bait” and “The God Box”

I believe the wave of gay-themed YA lit of the last decade is cresting. As teens become more comfortable with gay issues, the gay and lesbian coming out story will become less significant. And as teens become more accepting of gay people, they’ll become more open to exploring their own same-sex attractions and less willing to box themselves in as either gay or straight. I believe the new trend will be coming of age stories that explore more deeply bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, and being label-free, period.

ARLA JONES, ALA Rainbow Project member and Lawrence High School Librarian

Trend begins with “T.” The LGBT teens in my high school library are more interested in the “T” than ever before.  How lucky are they that since the publication Luna,  more and more  young adult and children’s  books are being published with a transgender theme? Each year I have a number of students self-identify as “trans.” This has been  a bit surprising to an old lezbrian like myself, living in Kansas. But, thanks to the help of the Rainbow List, the new Stonewall Book Award  for children (and Lambda of course!) there are sources for finding recommended  youth-appropriate titles.  I am very  thankful for the hard work of those  intrepid librarians in the past who have helped make  it possible for today’s young people to grow up with libraries that can and will buy lgbt books. After serving three years on the Rainbow List committee, I am currently  chairing a new committee,  that will put together a recommended list of lgbt books for adults.  We are calling our new bibliography Over the Rainbow.  Our mission is to help librarians and others who buy lgbt books locate the best in publishing each year.  Although lgbt publishing is in a bit of flux right now, it is exciting that there’s lots of good stuff out there for all ages of readers.

ARTHUR A LEVINE, publisher Arthur A. Levine Books

I think the increasing access to books via download to a personal device means that the process (of buying books) is even more private than before, which may make it more comfortable for kids interested in reading books with LGBT content to get what they want. And what that is, is timeless: everyone wants books with characters who live and love and struggle for happiness in ways that are recognizable and feel real.

DAISY PORTER, maintains the blog Queer YA.

I’ve been so pleased to see more fluidity and ambiguity in gay YA in the last couple of years.  Books like Last Night I Sang to the Monster, Liar, and Beautiful demonstrate the rejection of labels without being explicit about it.  All three leave the reader thinking they don’t know what the hell is going on, which mirrors many teens’ identity struggles as well.  I’m also seeing a lot more “drive-by gay” books, where a character’s sexuality is not a big part of the book and is mentioned ony in passing, like the uncles in Project Sweet Life or the band camp guy in If I Stay.  Ever since David Levithan’s groundbreaking Boy Meets Boy, gayness hasn’t had to be a Big Problem in teen fiction, but now it’s so normal it sometimes barely scores a mention. Don’t get me wrong – this is great news, because we’re also still seeing a lot of center-stage sexual identity, but it’s good to have these characters woven into the background of other books as well.



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  • Michael Craft

13 Responses to “What do LGBTQ Teens Want? [UPDATE]”

  1. Kelley Eskridge 28 February 2010 at 7:31 PM #

    I love the idea of stories about “label-free” characters. When LGBT characters become an established part of the human literary landscape, then instead of stories about “why these queer people are different,” we get stories of human beings connecting/disconnecting because of all their similarities and differences. Less cliche, more humanity!


  2. Tomas 1 March 2010 at 12:31 PM #

    Three thoughts come to mind reading ‘What Teens What’ – first, the absence of actual teens, people who would logically be better suited to address the question. I would have been curious, for instance, to hear this panel address the basic issue of book covers illustrating LGBT adolescent lives and purchases at the retail and institutional levels. secondly, casting the future of lgbt teen narrative purely in the present tense ie., the sheer lack of his/herstory, even a relatively recent past. Although coming out and LGBT health issues, esp. HIV, may no longer have the same cultural stigma as ten years ago, it seems incredible to suggest that an entire era has become irrelevant to what current and upcoming teens are experiencing (or, will.) thirdly, the positioning of the LGBT narrative (teen or otherwise) outside and apart from a more general economic context. While the love that may not speak its name is, arguably, unable to shut up, how the rent will be paid on the love nest is a reality that will hold increasing sway (perhaps greater than “past” issues of discrimination) as widening economic and educational disparities are played out within the micro LGBT communities. Same as the rest of us, LGBT teens will be affected by issues of global debt, credit default swaps, & all the other financial “instruments” currently remaking the American landscape vis dislocation, foreclosure and environmental collapse.


  3. […] Griffith is on the Board). Consequently we get a fair slice of the launch content. Malinda Lo talks to other writers about what LGBTQ teenagers want from their reading. There’s an interview with Elizabeth Bear. […]


  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by MsBookish: RT @colleenlindsay: What do LGBTQ teens want to read? @MalindaLo and others weigh in: http://bit.ly/cs2TNz


  5. Antonio Gonzalez 1 March 2010 at 4:43 PM #

    Couldn’t agree with you more Kelley!


  6. Rose W. 1 March 2010 at 5:05 PM #

    I don’t count as a teen anymore (turning 24 this year – ye gods!), but as a bisexual woman who grew up reading SF/F (primarily F) I’d be happy to toss in my 2 cents.

    What do I want to see? I want to see GLBT protagonists where no one cares that they’re gay. I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with coming out stories and I’m bored. I don’t care. They don’t apply to me – they never did. I had a loving and supportive family and so “coming out” was never that big a deal.

    So give me a story filled with space travel and steam-powered engines and vampires who don’t sparkle and magic and aliens who are truly alien (eww, humans with wrinkled foreheads) and non-straight people and gender-fluid people and I will be happy. Give me a television show or movie with the same and I will be ecstatic (mm…Torchwood…). Give me some non-monogamous or kinky relationships and I’ll be bouncing off the walls with glee (but please no Jacqueline Carey – I think her writing is horrible).

    Even better: Give me that story in a format I can easily use – podcast or Kindle format. I’m a pre-med. I don’t have the money to buy a physical book, and I rarely have the time to read anyhow. Give me something I can listen to during my commute and housework, and give it to me for cheap, and I’ll read it and publicize it until the world ends.


  7. Larry Rood 1 March 2010 at 7:15 PM #

    Hey guys, I just subbed via Facebook, and was immediately bounced to your Word Press Admin Page, where I certainly had no business being.

    Suggest your resident techie investigate.

    Larry Rood


  8. Antonio Gonzalez 1 March 2010 at 7:46 PM #

    @Larry Rood: We’re on the case. Thank you for pointing this out.


  9. Rachel Gadd-Nelson 1 March 2010 at 8:32 PM #

    Yay, Arla! Great to see you on this wonderful post.

    However, what about getting LGBTQ young adults opinions on what they want to read? Because, really, who knows better than them what queer youth want to read?


  10. Arla Jones 5 March 2010 at 8:04 PM #

    Couldn’t agree with your more, Rachel and others. Now, let’s get some youth comments!


  11. Jay Bell 1 April 2010 at 6:59 AM #

    I make a lot of YouTube videos about gay issues, and the younger viewers are the first to dismiss there being any need for a title, and say that sexuality isn’t a black and white issue.

    Because of this, I think coming out should no longer be the primary theme of a gay story. I touch upon it in my YA fantasy novel, but it never takes the center stage.


  12. tc 26 July 2010 at 2:29 PM #

    love that there are so many books for teens now where labels aren’t important. i think coming out stories are still important but i also feel that there needs to be a substantial chunk of literature out there where being gay is just like having freckles or braces- just another thing about a character that makes up a much bigger story.


  13. Pam Watts 24 March 2011 at 12:10 PM #

    My question when we talk about queer literature for youth is whether we’re getting a skewed perspective based on which youth are comfortable enough with their sexual identity to declare what their reading needs are?

    A 15 year old who has grown up in the New Jersey suburbs of New York and has an active GSA at his school, for instance, might say that coming out stories are passe. But what about the kids who don’t grow up in New England? What about the kids who are poor living in rural texas? There are, believe it or not, still kids who haven’t even heard the term “pansexual.”

    I think we need to watch out when we talk about “trends” and make sure that we aren’t sacrificing the reading needs of, well, them who might actually need books most, to the needs of those (I believe still minority) who have grown up in a much more free and accepting situation.



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