General Themes in LGBTQ Literature for Young Adults
The first novel written specifically for young adults featuring a LGBTQ protagonist was I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip, by John Donovan, published in 1969. This novel tells the story of two boys who fall for each other, are discovered together and through a tragedy, are scared straight. While this storyline does not seem the most enlightened in the 21st century, it was a reflection of the prevailing attitudes of the time which suggested that homosexuality was a disorder which could be fixed (Martin & Murdock, 2007, p. 84). Fortunately a greater amount of LGBTQ young adult fiction was written in the 1970s and 1980s, but these books were typically “problem novels” in which the protagonist grappled with the “issue” of homosexuality. Often, the difficulties of coming out were the focus of these novels and took precedence over character development or plot. It is in the 1990s that more nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ characters began to appear, and by the 2000s new “forms, faces, genres, themes, voices [and] narrative strategies” were commonplace in novels for young adults (Cart & Jenkins, 2006, p. 128).
Our Project Focus
We wished to look at novels which are most applicable to the experiences of teens today and did not present LGBTQ identity primarily as a problem, yet at the same time acknowledged that coming out still remains a central issue among LGBTQ teens. Additionally, 75% of the LGBTQ literature from the 1970s and 1980s featured only gay boys (Martin & Murdock, 2007, p. 85), under-representing or ignoring the experiences of lesbians, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals as well as most racial minority members. For these reasons we chose to focus our reviews on literature from 1990 to 2011, hoping for more representative and complex portrayals of LGBTQ young adults.
In the Fiction Review Section we have chosen a number of titles that represent some of the best works of LGBTQ young adult fiction over the last two decades. These novels tell the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning teens from a diversity of racial and cultural backgrounds. We have examined how they experience “coming out” and highlight these profound and diverse experiences, some of which are uplifting and some heartbreaking. We hope that through expanding our knowledge of this literature, we will be in a better position to assist LGBTQ young adults who come to the library most in need of these stories.
Chronological List of Reviewed Titles
- Walker, K. (1991). Peter. Norwood, S. Aust: Omnibus.
- Kerr, M.E. (1994). Deliver us from Evie. New York: Harper Collins.
- Cart, M. (1996). My father’s scar: A novel. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
- Boock, P. (1999). Dare truth or promise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Sanchez, A. (2001). Rainbow boys. New York: Simon Pulse.
- Sanchez, A. (2003). Rainbow high. New York: Simon Pulse.
- Johnson, M. (2004). The Bermudez triangle. New York: Razorbill.
- Peters, J. A. (2004). Luna. Little, Brown Young Readers.
- Sanchez, A. (2004). So hard to say. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Summer, J. (2004). Not the only one: Lesbian and gay fiction for teens. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.
- Wyeth, S.D. (2004). Orphea proud. New York: Delacorte.
- Sanchez, A. (2005). Rainbow road. New York: Simon Pulse.
- Cameron, P. (2007). Someday this pain will be useful to you. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Dole, M. L. (2008). Down to the bone. HarperTeen.
- Wilson, M. (2008). What they always tell us. New York: Delacorte Press.
Katcher, B. (2009). Almost perfect. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
- Peck, D. (2009). Sprout. New York: Bloomsbury.
Cart, M. & Jenkins, C.A. (2006). The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004. Toronto: The Scarecrow Press.
Martin, H.J. & Murdock, J.R. (2007). Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.