GLBT character in YA? YES! But Not Just in Issue Books
By Tiger Beatdown on September 16, 2011
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Editor's Note: I've been following the conversation about GLBT characters in young adult fiction since seeing the Publisher's Weekly article "Authors Say Agents Try to "Straighten” Gay Characters in YA." It's not the first time I've heard of an author being told to change their book to make GLBT characters straight. Unfortunately it probably won't be the last. This post by s.e. smith at Tiger Beatdown reminds us to say yes to gay YA... but not just in issue books. - Karen
Yes to Gay YA–But Don’t Stick It In the Issue Books Corner
Here’s the thing: A book isn’t an issue book because it contains a minority character. Take Karen Healey’s The Shattering, which I just finished reading. One of the characters is lesbian, it comes up in the text, there is some discussion about it, but The Shattering is not an issue book. It’s a young adult fantasy that happens to feature minority characters. Contrast that with, say, Suicide Notes, which features a gay protagonist and is very much an issue book, since it talks about coming of age and mental health. Or Will Grayson, Will Grayson, another book with a gay protagonist that definitely fits in the ‘issue book category.’ All three of these are fine books, but they shouldn’t be treated identically.
There’s a tendency to believe that books with minorities belong in a special section. They aren’t ‘regular’ books, because the characters aren’t ‘normal.’ Which is not such a great thing, when you’re a young person looking for people who look like you. Some folks really love issue books, and I have a soft sport in my heart for them myself, but I also love it when minority characters are allowed to just be and it’s a natural part of the story, rather than the focal point. The reality is that we don’t go around being walking issues; we have lives, we do things, our minority identities are part of us but they aren’t the focal point, and with YA in particular I think it’s critical to make sure that representation includes not just a centering of issues, but also a showing of us in our natural habitat, so to speak.