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When I was first asked to write about GLBT topics in Young Adult fiction for Lambda, I was thrilled. I love YA fiction, and books with queer themes or characters have always appealed to me. I’d been an editor with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for over 3 years, and being currently unemployed, this was a chance for me to interact with the market I loved while I waited for a new editorial opportunity to blossom. Writing about Queer YA should be a piece of cake, I thought. I had another thing coming.
I feel proud with the small contributions I’ve made to the GLBT YA market during my tenure at Little, Brown. I’ve supported colleagues as they championed books such as Lambda Literary Award finalist Ash by Malinda Lo, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, or Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin, based on the true story of a gay teen and his basher who came together as adults to teach tolerance. I had the incredible opportunity to provide editorial feedback on Grl2grl, a short story collection by one of my favorites, Julie Anne Peters. And one of my proudest moments as an editor was co-acquiring and editing I am J by Cris Beam, the story of a female-to-male transgender teen coming out and transitioning in an urban and multicultural setting. But now it was time to explore what the rest of the market has to offer.
When I looked back on all the books I’ve read over the years, I was sad to see that I’d only read 9 teen novels with GLBT themes. Was the gap in my experience due to a lack of queer fiction on the market, or my own choices as a reader? I’d read the gay pre-requisite Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez, but had never read Boy Meets Boy (another must-read) or the rest of David Levithan’s oeuvre. Nor had I read classics like Nancy Garden’s Annie On My Mind or the recently re-released I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan, first published 40 years ago and widely considered to be the first gay teen novel. I read AfterElton.com religiously, and yet I’ve never read The Geography Club by AE’s very entertaining Associate Editor Brett Hartinger.
This realization disturbed me. I remember being a young gay bookworm about a decade ago, reading Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club, about a group of terminally ill teens living in a hospice who bond over scary stories. The revelation that one of them was gay and dying of AIDS, scared that his life had been a sin, both shocked and touched me. That book remains a wonderful reading memory and I’ve re-visited it multiple times. I still have the original paperback. So why did I turn away from the path of queer YA lit? One answer is that I just didn’t know what was out there, at least not at the time. This was before the days of Google, and Amazon wasn’t as easy to search as it is today. Once I came back to YA as an editor, I became more aware of the books that were out there, but being an ambitious young editor, I was focused on reading as many different genres as I could. I was also getting my regular GLBT fix from some of the adult authors I’d discovered in the meantime. Authors such as Lynn Flewelling, Christopher Rice and Mercedes Lackey (whose Last Herald-Mage trilogy contains my favorite gay romance). So here I am now, with 9 books under my belt, wondering what else is out there. There are the books I mention above, which have been added to my to-be-read pile, but what else is out there? What is lacking and what books deserve focus?
Now begins my journey into Queer YA Lit, and I hope you, the readers, will join me for the trip. I’m writing this column for you, so you’ll know what’s out there and what’s worth reading, so you won’t miss out like I did. I want this to be a shared experience, which means audience participation. If there’s a book you’re thinking about reading but you’re not sure if it’s worth it, ask me to read it. If you’d like to hear my thoughts on a certain topics related to GLBT YA, tell me. In the meantime, I’ll be reading my ass off and coming up with some interesting things of my own to talk about. Stay tuned.