Posts tagged ‘LGBTQ’

Introduction to the Fiction Section

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


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.


“Coming Out” in Non-Fiction for LGBTQ Young Adults


We have decided to look at LGBTQ non-fiction for young adults as a compliment to the young adult literature we have been reviewing. No matter how profound, enlightening or meaningful a story is, it is not possible for a single novel or even several novels to address every issue an LGBTQ young adult is wrestling with.  It is in these instances that non-fiction specifically intended for teens becomes very important.  In fact in a survey conducted in 2003 by The New York Public Library, self-identified queer teenagers listed “real stories of real people” as their number one information need and this need got twice as many responses as any others (Martin and Murdock, 21).  Unfortunately, there are a surprisingly small number of non-fiction titles for LGBTQ young adults and many of these titles are written in stale language and read more like school textbooks. The following 3 resources stand out as books which will be meaningful resources for LGBTQ teens and in keeping with the project’s theme we have focused on information pertaining to coming out.


Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents, by Mary V. Borhek (1993)

Coming out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents was originally published in 1983, but updated and re-issued in 1993.  Some of the assumptions in this book are outdated almost 20 years later, but much of the insight is still very relevant. In Coming out to Parents, Borhek focuses on the psychology behind common parental reactions and attempts to help young adults understand the many emotions which their parents may experience:

The disclosure that you are lesbian or gay has set in motion grief reactions within your parents. And chances are that they have not the slightest idea they are experiencing grief…After all you are in good health. Why should your parents grieve?…They have lost an image of you, an idea about you, the identification of you as a heterosexual person (Borhek, 1993, p. 28).

Borhek prepares readers for the possible reactions which their parents may have and provides practical advice for how, when and where to come out and how to deal with initial responses.  Borhek does a wonderful job of explaining and contextualizing the roots of parental fear, guilt and shock and explaining to young adults how they can help minimize the impact of these emotions so the coming out process is easier on themselves and their parents.  She does not address bisexual, transgender or questioning teens, but this is more likely a by-product of the lack of visibility these groups had in the 1990s than a deliberate omission.

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens, by Kelly Huegel (2003)

 GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens is an extremely informative manual, written in readable language with text boxes, sidebars and illustrations. It was published more recently than Coming Out to Parents and includes information not just for gay men and lesbians, but also for bisexual, transgender and questioning teens.  GLBTQ has an entire chapter on coming out which includes a list of questions teens can ask themselves to determine whether they are ready to reveal their sexual identity, information about how to deal with being outed and a list of responses to possible reactions which a parent might have upon hearing the news.  This chapter also has a section on how to come out to friends and includes anecdotes from real teens about their own experiences throughout.  For example, “June” reflects on how important safety is to consider when making the decision to come out:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of who I am, I just have to be proud quietly because I live in a very small (and small-minded) community. Just last year at my school, a boy people called gay was beaten within an inch of his life. I’m a little scared to be too public about it for now. – June, 19 (Huegel, 2003, p. 47)

GLBTQ also has a chapter on Religion and Culture which addresses the feelings of conflict which some young adults may be facing in relation to their cultural/religious and sexual/gender identities.  Though discussion about coming out is very general in this chapter, some difficulties which LGBTQ young adults may face are highlighted:

Coming out can be difficult in many cultures because its seen as embarrassing or bringing shame on the family (or even on the race) because it makes public something that is considered private (Huegel, 2003, p. 161).

GLBTQ also has a chapter on Transgender Teens which contains a section on coming out.  This section includes information about the impact such an announcement may have on parents and also anecdotes from real transgender teens who have had positive experiences coming out to their parents.

GLBTQ is a very comprehensive and informative manual which contains essential information for all LGBTQ young adults. It addresses coming out with complexity, and from many different angles, making it a valuable resource for teens all across the LGBTQ, cultural and religious spectra.

The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities, edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell (2006)

One way to effect change is to share truths. To tell our stories. To make our hearts and minds heard.

-Levithan and Merrell, 2006, Notes to Reader

The Full Spectrum is a compilation of non-fiction account written by LGBTQ young adults under the age of twenty-three.  This anthology was published because of the noticeable lack of young queer voices in teen literature.  Their accounts cover a wide range of topics which include fitting in, first sexual experiences, homophobia, bullying, self-loathing, self-acceptance, growing up gay, struggling with religion, relationships, love and heartbreak. Coming out is also a heavily featured topic in the anthology, in which both positive and negative experiences are represented, but more importantly, these young authors also chronicle their paths to self-acceptance in light of their experiences.

In one account, “My Diary:  Documented. Done.” by L. Canale, a teenage lesbian writes about the twenty month period when she is first outed by her religious and unaccepting father to a time when she has come to terms with that period in her life and forgiven her father. In the beginning, her diary entries have titles such as “Dad found out”, “Oh, its killing me” and “F-That”, and include very angry language such as, “OH MAN. My dad is full of SO MUCH SHIT”(Levithan and Merrell, 2006, p. 45).  However, by the end of the account the author is able to look back at the progress she’s made:

It’s funny how things change. Here I am rereading what I wrote almost two years ago and patting myself on the back. How’d I get through it?…Was I ever really alone, though? I don’t think I was but I felt so alone at times” (Levithan and Merrel, 2006, p. 53).

Heartfelt stories from real LGBTQ young adults are what many of the teens who are going through these experiences crave most, and since information in these accounts is true they have the power to touch readers in ways that fictional stories may not.   The Full Spectrum is a powerful anthology which imparts meaning and hope, and will be of great value to LGBTQ young adult readers.

Resources and References

Borhek, M. (1993). Coming Out to Parents: A Two-Way Survival Guide for Lesbians and Gay Men and Their Parents. Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim 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.

Huegel, K. (2003). GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer & Questioning Teens. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.

Levithan, D. & Merrell, B. (2006). The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Other Identities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Dare Truth or Promise, by Paula Boock (1999)

Dare Truth or Promise is a love story about two girls, Louie and Willa, who meet working at a local fast food restaurant.  Sparks fly and soon they enter into a passionate and loving relationship.  Willa has been involved with a girl before and her mother is both aware that she is a lesbian and supportive of her sexual identity.  Louie is only discovering her sexual identity so she has not come out to her family, yet her mother takes an instant dislike to Willa and tries to prevent the two from spending time together.  Louie’s mother eventually catches the two girls in bed and in an intense and traumatic scene, kicks Willa out of the house and forbids her from returning.

Much to Willa’s dismay, Louie is devastated by her mother’s reaction and internalizes these feelings of shame and guilt, withdrawing from their relationship:

Louie…looked at her in such pain that Willa couldn’t bear it. “I love you, Louie,” she said, starting to cry though she’d promised herself not to.

“I know.” Louie’s voice sounded ready to snap in two. “I love you too,” she said, at last. “But that’s not the point, is it? (p. 104)

Louie’s mother continues to push her away from Willa and tries to convince her to date men, yet Louie is miserable and eventually comes out to her priest in hopes of receiving moral guidance.  In a very touching scene he explains to her what is really important:

Louie stared at him.

“And she? Does she love you?”

“Yes, I think she does.”

Father Campion smiled. “How wonderful.”

“How lucky you are, to love and to be loved in return.”

This wasn’t what Louie had expected. (p. 147)

This information gives Louie a much more positive perspective to reflect on, but it is eventually a car accident which brings the two back together.  After this near tragedy they realize how lucky they are to have found each other and Louie is able to work through the negative messages which she received about herself and her sexual identity.  At the same time Louie’s parents are so shaken by the accident that they reevaluate what is best for their daughter and open up to Willa as well.

In Dare Truth or Promise, we see how damaging it can be for young adults to be “outed” before they have time to work through their own emotions surrounding their sexual identity.  Louie survives this experience and it ultimately strengthens her relationship with Willa but it is a very difficult time for both girls and highlights just how vulnerable young adults are at this stage in their lives.

Boock, P. (1999). Dare Truth or Promise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Senior Fiction Category
New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 1998 Winner, Book of the Year Award

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher (2009)

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher is a story told by Logan Witherspoon, a high school senior in small-town Missouri.  He is upset about – and borderline obsessed with – the recent breakup with his ex-girlfriend, Brenda.  Then Sage Hendricks moves into town and changes his world: she is tall, vivacious and beautiful in her own quirky way.  Sage and Logan hit it off immediately, but she is not allowed to see him outside of school, and sometimes she reacts strangely to his touch.  Sage is obviously keeping a secret from him.  They finally kiss, and Sage reveals the truth: she was born a boy.  Logan reacts with anger, and treats Sage badly for weeks.  He is confused: if he was (and still is) attracted to a male, does that make him gay?  Does anyone else know that Sage is really a boy?  Logan eventually realizes that Sage desperately needs a good friend, so he decides to reach out to her and rekindle their friendship.  He cannot help but see Sage as a girl, and he finds himself falling in love with her.   Almost Perfect is an honest exploration of an uncommon relationship and a topic that is seldom discussed.

Throughout the course of the novel, very few characters know that Sage was born a boy, and they have a variety of reactions.  Logan is angry, and later finds himself cycling through feelings of love, disgust, and fear.

Why couldn’t she just be a real girl?  Our lives would be great.  She was so close to the real thing.  But close didn’t count. (p. 285)

Sage’s parents are permissive, but not supportive: they only allow her to live as a female because of a suicide attempt.  They forced her to be homeschooled for several years and moved to another town so that no one would find out her secret.  Sage’s sister Tammi is loving and very protective, but she feels guilty for encouraging Sage to become a girl: Tammi knows how much easier Sage’s life would be as a normal boy.  Logan’s sister is immediately accepting: she thinks Sage is a wonderful person, and could not care less that Sage was born male.  An unnamed college student has an unfortunately violent reaction: Sage is badly beaten and left for dead.  Will this incident convince Sage to go back to being a boy?

Katcher, B. (2009). Almost Perfect. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens, edited by Jane Summer (2004)

Not the Only One

Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens is a collection of short stories edited by Jane Summer.  The stories generally do not deal directly with “coming out,” but the reader still sees the consequences of coming out (or not, as the case may be).  Perhaps “coming out” is too complicated a theme to discuss within the confines of a short story.  Below is the discussion of two individual stories.

“Fooling Around” by Claire McNab

“Brett – how could you?”

“Mum, we were only fooling around.”

“Fooling around?  Fooling around!”

“Give me a break –” (p. 53)

Brett has been caught kissing his friend Steve, but he isn’t ready to admit to his parents that he’s gay.  Brett tells his mother that it was no big deal, that they were drinking and it didn’t mean anything.  Besides, Brett has a girlfriend.  Brett’s mother is very upset, and concerned about what everyone will think when they find out that her son was fooling around with a boy.  Martin, Brett’s father, arrives home mid-argument.  His reaction is surprising: he doesn’t seem even remotely affected by the news, and he advises Brett to make a joke of it.  Martin later reveals the truth: he himself is gay, but decided that it was better to get married and have a family than to live as a gay man.  Brett admits to Martin that he wasn’t just fooling around, and the reader is left wondering whether or not Brett will make the same decision as his father.

“Her Sister’s Wedding” by Judith P. Stelboum

Veronica has never told her family about her long-time girlfriend Leslie.  Her family has no inkling that she is a lesbian: they have always assumed that she would meet a nice man and get married.  Veronica is at her sister’s wedding, and is feeling the pressure to get married more than ever.  She gets set up with her new brother-in-law’s cousin, Buddy.  Buddy seems genuinely interested in her, and is obviously looking for a wife.  Veronica is not interested, but enjoys having her family’s approval.  Will she give in to the pressure and marry a man, or will Veronica be true to herself and tell her family that she is in love with a woman?  The story ends thus (p. 98):

She followed him outside, and he lifted his arm to wave goodbye.  And in that moment she realized she had to stop the panic attacks, the lying, the pretense.  If she didn’t do it now, there would be a million excuses not to do it later.  She turned back to the party and looked first for her brother, Terry.

Summer, J. (2004). Not the Only One: Lesbian and Gay Fiction for Teens. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.

So Hard to Say, by Alex Sanchez (2004)

Frederick is new to San Cayetano Middle School, and he immediately catches the eye of Xio, the beautiful, vivacious member of the self-proclaimed “Las Sexy Seis” (the Sexy Six). Any number of boys would want to trade places with Frederick, so he can’t figure out why he doesn’t feel for Xio the same way she does for him. Xio takes Frederick’s ambivalence for shyness and does everything in her power to accomplish that all-important first kiss.

While Xio pines for Frederick, Frederick notices Victor, the friendly, affectionate jock who invites him to play soccer after school. He finds himself drawn to Victor, and even, at one confusing moment, imagining what it would feel like to kiss him. Then there’s Iggy, the dimpled enigma who endures endless teasing in the hallways. Victor and his friends taunt Iggy, calling him “maricón,” and the Sexies also talk about the rumor that Iggy is gay when Frederick sits with them at lunch:

“Here comes Iggy!” Nora interrupted.

I followed her gaze across the lunchroom to the Mexican boy I’d noticed in the hall my first day—the one who smiled like he knew me. Dimpled Guy.

“You mean icky,” Carmen murmured, making a sour face. “I think maricónes are so gross.”

“En serio?” María put down her yogurt. “You really think he’s gay?”

I recalled the boys picking on him, but I knew that calling someone gay didn’t mean they actually were gay. It was simply a put-down, like: “That’s so gay. He’s so gay. Those French fries are so gay.” Everyone said it all the time.

Sanchez (2004), p. 39

Even at this point, Frederick is far from going beyond the questions he has about himself to being able to conclude that he, himself, might be gay. The taunts are taken with a grain of salt, as Frederick observes, because it’s simply “a put-down”—nothing more. Yet, when Carmen asks him if he is gay one day at lunch, Frederick gets very defensive. Xio observes:

I’d never really seen him mad before, but I couldn’t blame him. Everyone knows calling someone gay is just about the worst thing you can say to them. And asking them if they’re gay is like telling them you think they are gay.

Sanchez (2004), p. 83

Once Carmen asks him if he’s gay (even though it’s meant more as a “put-down,” than a sincere, though prying question), Frederick begins to wonder. If Iggy is gay, how did he know? He begins to research on the Internet and finds a story of a basketball player who has come out to his school. “He didn’t look gay,” Frederick thinks. “I mean, he just looked normal.” And so begins his journey towards self-discovery. Towards the end of the novel, Frederick has made leaps and bounds, though he hasn’t yet come out to his parents. Even the students at San Cayetano become a little more aware that their words have power. Switching perspective between Frederick and Xio, Sanchez’s book is a sweet story of thirteen-year-old kids—both gay and straight—coming to understand themselves, at the beginning of their young-adult years.

Sanchez, A. (2004). So hard to say. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lambda Literary Award 2004 Winner

Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole (2008)

Down to the Bone

Laura Amores is a tortillera: a girl who loves girls.

In Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole, Laura is a Cuban-American teen living in Miami. When her teacher (“Sister Fart Face”) reads aloud a letter from Laura’s girlfriend, Laura is abandoned by most of her friends, kicked out of her ultra-conservative high school, and banned from her home by her mother. Laura will only be allowed to come back home and see her younger brother if she changes and marries a man. Laura’s beloved girlfriend, Marlena, is forced to move back to Puerto Rico, where she decides to marry a man to appease her conservative Christian family. Laura has to decide between living a lie in order to regain her mother and brother, or being true to herself and possibly losing her family forever.

The characters in this book have one of two reactions when they find out that Laura is a tortillera: they are either fiercely supportive of her or violently opposed to her sexuality. When Laura is kicked out of her house, she goes to live with her best friend Soli and Soli’s mother: they are loving and nurturing, and encourage Laura to forget Marlena and date other girls. Laura also receives a lot of support from her new friend Tazer, who is “genderqueer” or a “boi” (that is, Tazer was born a girl but identifies as a boy; he does not want to undergo gender assignment surgery to become genetically male).

Many of Laura’s other close friends and family members abandon her when they find out she is gay. Her friends call her “revolting” and spit on her. Her teachers tell her she is immoral and deviant. She is nearly assaulted with a knife at work. Her mother has a strong negative reaction, and obviously believes that being gay is a sinful choice that Laura is making (2008, pp. 17, 27):

On our way home I try to reason with her: “Let me explain.”

She yanks my hair. “Explain? You’re a disgrace to our family name. If your father were alive, he’d die right now… I’ve never been so humiliated and embarrassed in all my life.”

Mami pushes me out the front door. I stumble and almost fall, but I don’t. “I’m sorry, Laura, but I can’t continue loving you if you stay gay.”

Laura’s love for her family and her desire for acceptance are so strong that she finds a boyfriend and considers marrying him. She cannot admit, even to herself, that she is a lesbian. Despite her difficult situation, Laura never loses her sense of humour and her fire.  Her lively narration gives the reader a sense of what it is like to be a gay person in Cuban American culture.

Dole, M. L. (2008). Down to the Bone. HarperTeen.

ALA Booklist Top Ten First Novels for Youth

ALA Rainbow Books highly recommended title

Américas Award Commended Titles (2009)

10 Outstanding LGBT Teen Reads (from the last 10 years)