April 23, 2014

10 LGBT Teen Novels that Tackle Teen Suicide & Bullying

Posted on 28. Oct, 2010 by in Features

In September, the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi was a tragic close to a shocking month of gay teens taking their own lives. Clementi’s dormmate secretly recorded the teen having sex with another man, sent out messages on Twitter and broadcast it across the Internet. Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge.

Clementi’s death also brought attention to three other teen suicides–Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Luca–that occurred in September; all had been bullied over their sexuality. We’ll never know exactly how many LGBT teens have taken their lives because of physical or cyber bullying.

So although the media glare has revealed that bullying is an epidemic, LGBT novelists have long tackled this issue in the pages of their books.

In my own novel, Conquering Venus ($14.95, Vanilla Heart), the story is set in motion by the suicide of a high school student, Peter, fearful that family and friends will abandon him if they discover he is gay. Peter’s boyfriend, Martin, goes to Paris to try and move on with his life, but meets another young man tormented by his sexuality who seems to be heading down the same irrevocable path.

Here are 10 books for teens and adults that confront bullying and suicide in frank language and tone, not to mention providing hope that “it gets better.”

By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters ($16.99, Hyperion).

A bullied high school student trolls a suicide “completers” website determined to get it “right” after several botched attempts. Then she meets a young man dying of cancer, who is just as determined to make sure she lives.

Peters includes information about suicide prevention at the end of the novel.

Bait by Alex Sanchez ($7.99,  Simon & Schuster)

Told from the prospective of the bully, Sanchez charts the course of a 16 year old coming to terms with his abusive past after he is arrested for assaulting a gay teen.

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford ($8.00, HarperTeen)

A 15 year old tries to commit suicide and wakes up in a juvenile psych ward, where he confront his burgeoning sexuality with the help of three other teens.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger ($17.99, Simon & Schuster)
Lambda Award Finalist

A transgendered high school student gets support from his family while trying to defend himself from bullies and act on his attraction to the hottest girl in school.

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole ($16.99, HarperTeen)

A Cuban-American girl in a Catholic school is expelled and abandoned by her mother after they discover she is a lesbian.

A Scout is Brave by Greg Novak ($3.99, Amazon Kindle exclusive)

A Native American is bullied at a Boy Scout summer camp as he faces his own sexuality and the traditions of his family.

The Side Door by Jan Donley ($14.95, Spinsters Ink)

A teen gets bullied after coming out at her high school and tries to uncover the secret behind the suicide of another bullied teen, whose death has been hushed up by the small town.

Freak Show by James St. James ($8.99, Puffin)
Lambda Award Finalist

Teenage drag queen Billy (or “gender obscurist” as he calls himself) faced down bullies as he seeks to become the homecoming queen at his conservative high school.

Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff ($15.50, Quote)

A book for older teens and adults, this story of a young African American teen and his Jewish boyfriend in 1969 is sexually frank and shows that bigotry and bullying roots are deep. (Reviewed for LLF by Reginald Harris)

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein ($16.95, Seven Stories Press).

Okay, this isn’t a novel, but it’s definitely a book for bullied teens that belongs on any list. The celebrated transgender writer offers up suggestions from the witty to the controversial, but all with one simple message: “Don’t be mean.”

Collin Kelley is the author of the literary mysteries Conquering Venus and Remain In Light.  His poetry collections include Better To Travel, Slow To Burn, After the Poison and the forthcoming Render from Sibling Rivalry Press in April 2013. His poetry, essays and interviews have appeared in journals and magazines around the world. www.collinkelley.com

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22 Responses to “10 LGBT Teen Novels that Tackle Teen Suicide & Bullying”

  1. Sumayyah 28 October 2010 at 6:36 PM #

    I’ve read half of these! Guess I’ll go and read the other half now. Wonderful list.

  2. batchelorboy 29 October 2010 at 7:00 AM #

    Would like to add Jerome, by William Taylor

  3. Robert Devereaux 29 October 2010 at 8:55 AM #

    Thanks for this list, and please add my novel SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES. Thanks!

    • TheBadassMuppet 29 October 2010 at 5:57 PM #

      Whoa! I love Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and books, and camp! I know where my Amazon gift money is going!

  4. Walter Meyer 29 October 2010 at 3:51 PM #

    My novel, Rounding Third, which was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for a San Diego Book Award, also covers these tragic topics and is based in part on my own experiences in high school. I have been asked to write about it for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Gay.com’s Writes of Passage and the web site Epochalips. Sadly now, fact is immitating fiction far too often.

  5. TheBadassMuppet 29 October 2010 at 5:53 PM #

    Down to the Bone and By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead are both good, but I don’t remember any suicide-related content in the former or LGBT-related content in the latter (unless you count the author being queer.)

    • Mayra Lazara Dole 5 November 2010 at 7:45 AM #

      Hi. In Down to the Bone, El Gringo’s T-Girl/drag queen brother gets bullied and beat up by his cop dad before he commits suicide. Che, the teen Laura works with landscaping, is a homophobe/bully.

  6. Collin Kelley 29 October 2010 at 6:19 PM #

    The selections deal with bullying as well as suicide. “By the Time You Read This…” is one of the best books I’ve read that deals with teen suicide, so that’s what I chose to include it. I’ve been hearing from a number of folks about other great books. I had a much longer list, so hopefully there will be a sequel to this article soon.

  7. Stephanie Silberstein 30 October 2010 at 4:29 AM #

    Thank you for this list. You know, when I started writing Shades of Gay I had no idea there were so many other LGBT books out there, never mind so many other books that deal with suicide. I can’t wait to read these.

    I’m so glad that there are so many resources, factual and fictional, dealing with suicide. I just wish it didn’t have to take so many suicides before the issue got some publicity.

  8. Nancy Garden 5 November 2010 at 7:51 AM #

    A couple of my YA novels also include bullying of LBGT kids: GOOD MOON RISING, (iUniverse,2005; Farrar, Straus & Giroux,1996), and THE YEAR THEY BURNED THE BOOKS (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999). Also, my YA novel ENDGAME (Harcourt, 2006) is about a straight boy who, after being brutally bullied in many of the same ways he would have been had he been gay, ends up taking a gun to school and using it.

  9. Nancy Garden 5 November 2010 at 7:53 AM #

    Whoops–of course I mean LGBT, not LBGT in my post!!

  10. Jenny 4 December 2012 at 8:35 PM #

    Sarah Dessen has impressed me time and time again with her novels!
    If your looking for excellent heart-felt teen novels, check her out!

    I guarantee if you read the first two chapters of What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen from the link below you’ll be hooked. ;)

    http://tinyurl.com/SarahDessenWHG

  11. Olympic 16 December 2012 at 7:04 PM #

    What’s up, I desire to subscribe for this blog to get hottest updates, thus where can i do it please assist.

  12. Mark 9 August 2013 at 4:07 PM #

    I just came across a great new book on this topic. It won the Kirkus Star. I couldn’t put it down. “Promise me something” by Sara Kocek


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  8. It Gets Better « issues in ontario education - May 25, 2011

    [...] Fact:  Unless they are portrayed as abhorrent or tragic, there are no high school novels or literature that deal directly with LGBT relationships.  Suggested reading for the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum to fight discrimination against LGBT teens:  10 LGBT teen novels that tackle teen suicide and bullying. [...]

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