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YA A to Z: Let’s Talk About . . . Aromantic and Asexual, a guest post by Bridgette Johnson

It’s the second week of January, which means we’re discussing the Letter A in YA A to Z. Today we are talking about aromantic and asexual with librarian Bridgette Johnson.

You can find out more about YA A to Z here.

yaatoz

Before we delve too deep into our topic, let’s have some super basic broad definitions:

Asexual: a person who experiences no sexual attraction

Aromantic: a person who experiences no romantic attraction

Asexualflag

It’s important to remember these two terms are only a starting point, an umbrella term, especially in regards to asexuality. For example, two more super basic broad definitions are:

Demisexual: a person who experience sexual attraction only after a strong, personal, emotional bond has been established

Demiromantic: a person who experiences romantic attraction only after a strong, personal, emotional bond has been established

The terms above are arguably the four most broad identities. What some people still don’t realize is that you can experience any range of romantic attraction (hetero, homo, bi, pan, etc.) and be asexual. The terms are not one or the other. They are all that feel applicable to you. You may be a romantic asexual. You can be a demihomoromantic asexual. You can be aromantic asexual (often referred to as aro-ace). These identifiers are for romantic and sexual orientation only, not gender identity, which is an entirely separate topic. For the sake of explicitness and clarity, asexuality is a sexual orientation, just as gay, lesbian, bi, and pan are. For romantic asexuals, it’s not either/or. Sometimes it’s multiple things or all of the above.

People experience varying degrees of romantic and sexual attraction. There is no one way to be and there is no right or wrong way to be. There are many, many terms for attraction and chances are there is a term for whatever way you might feel. For example, you might be lithromantic or lithsexual, which is where romantic or sexual feelings are experienced, but there is no desire to have those feeling reciprocated. It’s all a matter of finding the term that fits you, or ignoring all the terms and labels if that’s what makes you most comfortable. You’re also likely to hear/read the word ace used in regards to asexuality. For example, if someone says “I’m ace,” they mean asexual. For those people who are not asexual or aromantic, a couple of terms you’ll often see used are allosexual and alloromantic, which respectively mean someone who isn’t asexual and someone who isn’t aromantic.

You may identify as gray ace, which usually means someone who is asexual, but doesn’t mind reading/watching things about sex, many know a lot of information about sex, and may have sex in their lifetime. It’s also important to note that having sex does not negate a person’s identity as asexual. If you’re asexual, you’re asexual whether or not you have sex. On the other end of the spectrum, some ace people are sex-repulsed, meaning they want nothing to do with sex in almost any form. Everyone’s comfort level is different.

Like all romantic and sexual orientations, aromantic and asexuality are not new. People have always felt this way. We just didn’t always have the right words for it. And it’s super important to remember that romantic and asexual attraction is a spectrum, and like all communities, is not a monolith. What is true for one person may not be true for another.

All of these varied identities within one part of the LGBTQIAP+ community is one of the many reasons we need more inclusive books in YA. For some kids, reading about a character who is aromantic or asexual or aro-ace may be their first exposure, and if that reader sees themself in that character? It could be life-changing and affirming to know they are not alone in the world and their feelings. To discover there is a community for them and what they’re feeling has a name can mean more than could ever be put into words.

Now that you’ve a brief primer on some ace terms, let’s talk about one of the librarians’ favorite things: books!

The availability of aromantic and asexual characters in YA is, to put it nicely, not the best. As with pretty much every other marginalized identity we’re looking for in books, there isn’t enough asexual rep. There isn’t enough intersectionality within the rep, and there isn’t enough #ownvoies rep. But progress is being made.

lets talk about love

Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love has a biromantic asexual main character, Alice, who is a WOC. The cover is wonderfully designed in the colors of the Asexual Flag. I don’t believe it is #ownvoices in regard to Alice’s sexuality, but the author is a WOC and seems to really care about getting all of her rep accurate. You can read more about her editing process and worries here.

dreadnation

Another book that features POC characters is the upcoming Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. Now, Dread Nation is fantastic for about 80,000 reasons, but it’s even better for one specific thing. It has a character, Katherine, who is (minor spoiler) aromantic asexual. Those words aren’t used (this an alternate history where the Civil War was interrupted by the dead rising again as zombies) and no one really referred to people as asexual then. Through a conversation with the main character, Jane, it is clear that Kate is aro-ace. This is the first time I’ve ever read a character in YA that reads as, without any doubt, aro-ace. And it’s totally fine that she is. She’s reassured by her friend that it’s fine and the girls move one to talking about more important things. It is an impeccable scene.

tash hearts

Of course, there are other YA books with characters who are somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Just from 2017 there was Kathryn Ormsbee’s #ownvoices Tash Hearts Tolstoy (MC is romantic asexual), Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence (secondary character is homoromantic demisexual), Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue (Younger sister of the MC reads as asexual, maybe aromantic, and Lee has confirmed off-page she would be somewhere on the asexual spectrum if she has access to Tumblr. Plus, she’s getting her own spin-off book!), and Julie Murphy’s Ramona Blue (a character is homoromantic demisexual).

So, progress, bit by bit, in fiction and in real life.

Again, the information here in barely the tip of the iceberg. It would next to impossible to cover aspect of asexual and aromantic in one post. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about someone who is aromantic or asexual is that they are not broken. They do not need to be fixed. They are not a late bloomer. They are not a robot or someone who can’t connect with another human being. They will not change when they meet the right person. They are not repressed. They don’t need to try “it” to know for sure. They are not celibate. They are not faking it. They are not broken. I’ll say it again for the people in the back

They are not broken.

For more information about asexuaity and aromantic, visit any of the websites below:

http://www.asexuality.org/?q=overview.html (This is part of the Asexuality Visibility Network (AVEN) and has ton of resources along with forums for those who wish to join the site)

http://www.gayya.org/masterlist-aromantic/ (A list of books with aromantic characters)

http://www.gayya.org/masterlist-asexual/ (A list of books with asexual characters)

https://medalonmymind.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/asexuality-in-ya/ (A mock Stonewall book winner blog; this post specifically is about asexuality in YA. Check out their posts for great YA books with LGBTQIAP+ rep)

http://www.asexualityarchive.com/the-asexuality-flag/ (The Asexual Flag)

http://wiki.asexuality.org/Lexicon (AVEN, mentioned above, has its own Wiki with some commonly used terms on the website and the forums)

http://www.asexualityarchive.com/ (An Introduction sections and many, many posts)

http://asexualawarenessweek.com/ (Features downloadable resources, FAQ, and will announce the 2018 dates for Asexual Awareness Week)

Meet Bridgette Johnson:

Bridgette Johnson has worked in Youth Services in public libraries for four years and bookstores for over nine. She received her MLIS from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2016. She writes fantasy for kids and teens and is thrilled to be a Author Mentor Match Round Three mentee with her middle grade fantasy novel. In her spare time, she loves to travel and attend geek and comic book convention. All opinions and thoughts are her own.

Take 5: YA Lit on Asexuality Resources

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Earlier today guest poster Laura Perenic shared with us an introduction to asexuality (Introducing Asexuality, a guest post by Laura Perenic). This really resonated with me because of a recent interaction I had with one of my regular teen patrons. I was sitting in the Teen MakerSpace working on some collection development. Specifically, I had a list of Asexual (or Ace) YA Lit titles that I was checking the catalog to see if we owned a decent number of titles on the topic for our teens. As I sat there, this teen came up to me and saw the word asexuality on my computer screen. “What are you doing?,” she asked. So I told her I was checking to make sure we had some YA fiction titles on asexuality in our teen fiction collection. She then pointed to the word asexual on my computer screen, “That’s me,” she said. She then went on to tell me that she had no idea that there were teen fiction books that featured asexual characters, she said it in a way that clearly communicated that this moment was important to her. For the first time, she knew that there were teens like her in our teen fiction collection. Thankfully, I was able to get a couple of titles in her hand in that moment, which is why it is important that we do our due diligence in collection development and can meet the needs of any teen we encounter in our libraries. Here are a few resources for you to check your collections to make sure you have some asexual representation in your YA collection. I particularly recommend the Gay YA as it is curated by members of the GLBTQIA+ community and they really discuss representation and quality. When evaluating the quality of books featuring asexual teens it’s important to listen to members of the asexual community to make sure that the representation is not harmful and does not perpetuate stereotypes.

Masterlist: Asexual – Gay YA

Booklist: Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction – The Hub

Books with Asexual Main Characters – Quiet YA Reads

Not Broken: Julie Daly talks asexual representation in YA

Also, check out this multi-part discussion:

Reading While Asexual: Representation in Ace YA – Gay YA

Jewish LGBTQ Books for a Synagogue Collection, a guest post by Jill Ratzan

fsyalitFor our second post today we are honored to host Jill Ratzan discussing Jewish LGBTQ books for the #FSYALit Discussion.

The Hebrew word mishkan can mean “tent,” “safe space,” or “inclusion.” At my Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue (Congregation Kol Emet in Yardley, PA), the Mishkan committee is charged with building a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ members and their allies. Recently, the Mishkan committee, together with our rabbi, asked me to assemble a list of YA books with Jewish and LGBTQ content. I was delighted to oblige!

Because this particular ‘tent’ turned out to be pretty large—and because, like many nonprofits, we have a limited budget—I also put together a list of criteria, which evolved alongside the booklist. I considered limiting the list to books whose main characters were queer and/or Jewish, but decided that the term “main character” was too vague. I also wanted to make sure that various genres (historical fiction, science fiction, contemporary realistic fiction) and approaches (humor, adventure, dystopia) were represented. And I wanted to balance books where being gay was easy and accepted (like Wide Awake) with books where characters struggled with expressing their identities within potentially-unwelcoming communities (like Gravity).

I also thought about what level of explicit sex, references to drinking and drugs, and other similar content was or wasn’t appropriate for our collection. Should we, as a religious institution serving a liberal but varied audience, be more cautious toward these issues than a public library might be? In the end, I decided that a wide spectrum of voices on these topics—from the “fade to black” approach of Openly Straight to the few explicit lines in Gravity—would serve our community best.

Here are my criteria, and the titles I chose.

Criteria:

I looked for books with Jewish and LGBTQ content that:

  • were published for teens (ages 12-18) within the past ten years (2005-2015)
  • are of high literary quality
  • include intersectional approaches to Jewish identity (characters are Jewish and gay and ____: African American, athletes, scientists, etc)
  • feature characters who reflect on their or others’ Jewish identity, and/or make decisions based on Jewish values

(This last criterion was inspired by Sarah Aronson’s Jewish Book Council review of The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow.)

Books:

postpic1Wide Awake by David Levithan (Knopf, 2006)

The election of the first gay Jewish president is in jeopardy, and Duncan (who isn’t sure about God but believes in lighting candles for Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath) and his boyfriend Jimmy want to help. They’re joined by a tween who’s coming out . . . as Jewish. Like David Levithan’s other novels, Wide Awake embraces the liminal space where realism and fantasy meet.

postpic2Starglass by Phoebe North (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

In a Jewish dystopia in outer space, everyone is told where they will work, how they will live . . . and who they will love.

postpic3Gravity by Leanne Lieberman (Orca, 2008)

Ellie loves the intensity and connection she finds in prayer. She also loves science. And girls. Set amid an Orthodox Jewish family in 1987.

postpic4Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (Scholastic, 2013)

Rafe, tired of being defined exclusively by his sexuality, wants to start boarding school with a clean slate . . . but things get complicated. A final reveal (Rafe is Jewish) creates new questions just when old ones are answered. Openly Straight has received significant critical acclaim and is arguably a definitional work of contemporary YA literature.

postpic5Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins, 2015)

Simon and his anonymous email-boyfriend Blue talk about everything, including Blue’s half-Jewish heritage (“Jews . . . are supposed to be gay friendly, but it’s hard to really know how that applies to your own parents”) and—after much drama on and off the stage of the fall play—finally realize who each other really are. Simon… was recently longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award.

We’ll be adding these books to our library collection and publicizing their availability through our newsletter, on social media, and via library displays and programs. We’ll also be intershelving them with young adult fiction, thereby normalizing them and making them easy—but not embarrassing—to find.

YA librarians know that part of building a mishkan (a safe space) is providing a place where everyone’s stories can be told, shared, and honored. I’m pleased that my synagogue library can be this kind of space for Jewish LGBTQ teens and those who love them.

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Jill Ratzan relishes opportunities to combine her passion for YA lit and librarianship with her Reconstructionist Jewish practice. She curates digital resources for her synagogue library, blogs for BookPage magazine, and contributes to School Library Journal, Fig Tree Books, and other review sources. She enjoys dressing up as her favorite book characters (sometimes more than one at a time).

Visit her on the web at http://jratzan.weebly.com, follow her on Twitter at @JillJYA, or check out her new blog If Found, Please Return at http//iffoundpleasereturnblog.blogspot.com.

Fighting for Phoenix

I know that this is a blog about serving teens, but I need to talk to you about Phoenix. You see, Phoenix is a 7-year-old boy who tried to take his life, and sadly this is not the first time. If I’m remembering correctly, Phoenix was 5 when he tried the first time, though possibly 6. Though that difference seems miniscule at this point.

Phoenix is the son of a friend of mine, we were pregnant together and fought through the evil battle that is Hyperemesis Gravidarum in order to bring our children into this world. Phoenix was born a girl and named Phoebe. But early on in life Phoenix began to exhibit some profound unhappiness with life. He struggled with depression. He tried to take his own life. He was hospitalized. He went to counseling. And after counseling the counselor looked at his mother and said, “Do you think he may be transgender?” And then one day Phoebe, as she was identified at that point, said that she wanted to die when people called her a girl because she was supposed to be a boy. And my friend said, I could have a dead child or I could accept that I have a transgender child and she supported Phoenix as he stepped on the path that would bring him better peace inside his own skin.

The struggles, of course, did not end there. It’s not as if embracing the transgender journey is not fraught with its own unique challenges. For one, Phoenix has to go to school with school children who are not always kind. He still struggles with identity and depression and other issues. Even with a loving family, a good counselor, and the freedom to identify as he feels most comfortable, this is still a difficult journey, especially for a child so young.

Life has not been an easy journey so far for Phoenix. And he is only 7. The same age as my Thing 2 (well 4 months older). I can’t imagine her being in such a dark place at this age. And as I have shared, I spent a part of my summer dealing with my own issues of depression and suicide ideation. It was terrible and traumatic and difficult at my adult age – I can’t imagine it happening at the age of 7, when most kids are trying to figure out how to stay up a few minutes later and how to sneak a cookie when no one is looking.

You can read Phoenix’s story here: https://www.facebook.com/fightingforphoenix. Scroll down to the bottom to read from the beginning.

Last night the TLTers and I were discussing what we could do for Phoenix. Amanda MacGregor shared that they had just discussed some of the challenges that transgender children face on MPR: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/09/22/bcst-discussion-challenges-of-transgender-kids-and-families.

We also discussed some books we would recommend. If you want to do something – I know that I want to do something – please consider buying one or more of these titles and donating them to your local public or school library in support of Phoenix. Also, you can tweet a message of support for him at #Fight4Phoenix. I am trying to compile them and send them to him as a reminder that his life has value and that people care.

transgender1Gracefully Grayson by Amy Polonsky

Publisher’s Book Description: Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

transgender2George by Alex Gino

Publisher’s Description: BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen

transgender3

Publisher’s Description: Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! (Heather Booth informs me that in issue 17 two characters come out as transgender)

transgender4It Gets Better by Dan Savage

Publisher’s Book Description: Growing up isn’t easy. Many young people endure bullying that makes them feel they have nowhere to turn–especially LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of being bullied. Without openly gay mentors, they don’t know what the future may hold. After a number of suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner, Terry Miller, to inspire hope for LGBT youth. The video launched the ‘It Gets Better Project’, initiating a worldwide phenomenon. This is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities and everyday people who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors. We can show LGBT youth the happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will have if they can get through their teen years. “It Gets Better” reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone–and it WILL get better.

transgender5Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal

Publisher’s Book Description: Two teens. Two struggles. Two unforgettable stories. Now available in one ebook, Arin Andrews and Katie Hill share their personal journeys of undergoing gender reassignment in two inspiring memoirs: Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal.

About Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen:


We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our own skin at some point, and we’ve all been told that “it’s just a part of growing up.” But for Arin Andrews, it wasn’t a phase that would pass. He had been born in the body of a girl and there seemed to be no relief in sight…

In this first-of-its-kind memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. He also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill—and the heartache that followed after they broke up.


Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

About Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition:
Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything—anything—to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart. Katie realized very young that a serious mistake had been made: she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy.


In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

For other books, please check out this SLJ post on evaluating transgender picture books.

Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit: GLBTQ YA and Issues of Faith, a guest post by Robert Bittner

Writing about spirituality is a really complex thing and includes myriad ways of looking at the world and at institutions that purport to nurture the spiritual lives of youth, since we’re getting specific. My own history within institutionalized Protestant Christianity left me feeling marginalized, especially due to my identity as a young gay man (though not out at the time, at least not to my youth group friends.) Institutionalized religion is—rather unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned—guilty of creating an environment of conflict and self-hatred within the LGBTQ community, and in my early teens, there was little support for queer Christians available. Now there are fantastic organizations available for teens to find a space of freedom and acceptance within Christian communities (Gay Christian Network is one very prominent example.) But I digress. This is supposed to be about books, after all!

When it comes to LGBTQ literature for youth (referred to as Queer YA from here on), there has been a history similar to that discussed briefly above in relation to queer individuals in the church. In early Queer YA, Christianity was treated as the enemy, often in the form of stereotypical preachers screaming about fire and brimstone, or in the form of conservative congregations refusing to allow queer individuals to attend Sunday morning services. More recently, queerness within Christianity has been dealt with through various takes on the degayification camp. These are camps in which young people are supposed to learn how to be straight again (The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Thinking Straight, Caught in the Crossfire.) The other consistent plot point throughout almost all YA with queer Christian themes is the engagement of a protagonist in debate with an anti-gay (often religious) character, during which biblical scriptures are tossed back and forth in an effort to prove that homosexuality is or is not okay in the eyes of God, Jehovah, or whatever omnipotent being is under scrutiny within the novel.

In an effort to understand more popular views on queer Christianity through YA publishing, I used the topic of Queer YA with Christian themes as the focal point for my MA thesis in Children’s Literature. I studied three books (though I wish I had been able to include more recent books, like Cameron Post and Caught in the Crossfire) in order to get a better understanding of trends within these books: Thinking Straight, The God Box, and Nothing Pink. These three novels featured gay male characters (at the time, I had to keep things simple, for brevity, but I wish I could have included more female protagonists), and had some element of Christianity that affected the protagonist’s identity as a queer individual. In the end, I was able to find two main types: Novels of abandonment and novels of reconciliation.

Novels of reconciliation are those in which the protagonist was able to find a way to make their queerness fit within the framework of Christianity, which novels of abandonment often rely on a rhetoric in which Christianity is a polar opposite to queer identity and the two can never be a part of one single identity construct. Both of these are interesting perspectives, of course, but the most damaging, I feel, is the one that does not allow, in any way, for queerness and Christianity to coexist, and the reason I feel this is harmful is because it makes Christianity the enemy, which, while often shown as such in the media, is not always the case, and also because queerness is then seen as superior simply because of its status as not Christian.

I believe the exclusion, or the either/or nature of the novel of abandonment creates an unhelpful dichotomy between those who are queer and those who are Christian (or, in some ways, spiritual in any sense of the word). Unfortunately, there are few novels with the subtlety to create an identity that is both queer and Christian. The conclusion I came to through my research was the need for novels in which teens are allowed to develop their own individual (queer) theologies.

Queer characters in YA literature exemplify the struggle of youth against social institutions, in this case, they transgress the boundaries of the conservative, American Protestant church.  Roberta Trites perhaps says it best in Disturbing the Universe: “The chief characteristic that distinguishes adolescent literature from children’s literature is the issue of how social power is deployed during the course of the narrative” (2). In Queer YA literature, the social powers are sometimes those of a political or religious nature that are deployed in such a way as to deny the character his or her ability to develop a sexual identity with which to be comfortable. Often, “a major developmental crisis can occur when gay and lesbian adolescents attempt to establish an identity in a society that devalues their sexual orientation” (Vare and Norton 190).

Family, socio-political ideology, Christian institutions and dogma, and current events all play very influential roles in the lives of queer teens as they attempt to create personal identities in a rapidly changing world. The difficulty for most queer youth is the expectation of conforming to the heteronormative assumptions displayed so prominently in much of daily life, in family relationship dynamics, in Christian dogma, and in ideologies of advertising and pop culture such as film, television, and music. Many teens become frustrated because of the ways in which they differ from the hegemonic expectations surrounding them. Nothing Pink, The God Box, and Thinking Straight show this clearly within their narratives and in the process each protagonist undergoes to accept a queer (Christian) identity through the erasure of heteronormative and religious boundaries.

All of the main characters display their transgression and reclamation of Christianity through an interrogation of scripture—what Patrick Cheng (2011) refers to as talking about, and talking to God—and with specific dogma set forth by churches and Christian ministries within the texts.  Each character confronts the “clobber passages” that right-wing conservatives (often under the guise of Christian proselytizing) use to claim homosexuality as morally reprehensible. What I would love to see more of in Queer YA with Christian sub-plots, is the ability of characters to reimagine their spirituality—their faith—in ways which incorporate gender and sexual identities, instead of feeling the need to abandon all religious and spiritual components of their identities as opposed to abandoning all faith and spirituality.

I hope this very brief look at issues related to spirituality and religion in Queer YA helps to broaden and enhance future readings of similar YA literature. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement even as there are more novels available now than were available in my youth.

Meet our Guest blogger:

Rob Bittner is a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, and he has a history of working with children’s and YA literature in various contexts, including his MA degree and various award committees through the American Library Association. I love queer lit and I especially love when it engages with topics that are “out of the ordinary.”

For more on Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit check out our series index/hub

Publisher’s Book Descriptions of Books Discussed

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon

When he is shipped off to Straight to God, an institution devoted to ”deprogramming” troubled teenagers, Taylor Adams learns valuable lessons in love, courage, rebellion, and betrayal in a place where piety is a mask for cruelty and the greatest crimes go.

Caught in the Crossfire by Alan Gibbons

Set in a northern town where right-wingers are determined to stir up hatred and racial prejudice, six teenagers’ lives are woven together by a series of shocking and tragic events. A British Muslim brother and sister, two Irish brothers who take different sides, and two lads out looking for trouble: all of them get caught in the crossfire. Inspired by the Oldham riots and the events of September 11th, this is a chilling account of current events in Britain, but written with humor and understanding.

The God Box by Alex Sanchez

How could I choose betwen my sexuality and my spirituality, two of the most important parts that made me whole?

High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they’re good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he’s also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel’s interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel’s outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.

Lambda Literary Award-winning author Alex Sanchez tackles a subject ripped from the headlines in this exciting and thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be both religious and gay.

GLBTQ YA resources for building a collection and supporting teens

by Amanda MacGregor

Check out these articles and websites for great suggestions on books to add to your collections and how to support GLBTQ youth.

“LGTBQ and You: How to Support Your Students” by Lauren Barack at School Library Journal. From the article:

“With 82 percent of LGBTQ students reporting verbal harassment, among other forms of bullying, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2011 School Climate Report, finding a space to feel safe may be particularly crucial for these students. So is finding materials in which LGBTQ students can see themselves—resources that reflect the stories of their lives and the themes that mirror their own questions and concerns. School librarians provide support through their very presence as well as through the services they can provide.”

I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I read? From the blog, “I think [the blog] is for teens (queer or not), for librarians, for teachers, for booksellers, for people with teens in their lives and for anyone interested in YA books with GLBTQ characters and themes. What books are already out there? What’s new? Your answers are here.”

The Lesbrary.

Bisexual Books tumblr.

Queer Book Club tumblr.

Trans titles for young adults. Book list with brief annotations. (From Young Adult Library Services. By Talya Sokoll.)

Serving Trans Teens. Suggestions for ways libraries can reach out and serve trans teens beyond just stocking books. (From Young Adult Library Services. By Talya Sokoll.)

Rainbow Reads: GLBTQIA Books for Teens: A reader’s guide to books across the spectrum. This is an amazing resource. This extremely thorough website lists books by many categories, including: lesbian contemporary fiction; lesbian secondary characters; anthologies; cross-dressing; asexual teen fiction; trans fantasy, scifi, and historical fiction; and so much. It looks like the site is in the process of being redone and updated. The site breaks the books down by age group, too. There’s a glossary of terms, important dates to know, and tips for how to build a good GLBTQIA collection.

Queer YA: Fiction for LGBTQ Teens is another great site. Excellent, thorough book reviews. Can search by genre, pub date, author, and a super duper character search that features terms like genderqueer, surprise queer character, unreliable narrator, and more. The site is on an indefinite hiatus, but there’s a lot of great stuff already on here.

Stonewall Book Awards. List of winners and honors from 1971 to 2014.

Gay YA: LGBTQIA characters in YA fiction & LGBTQIA YA Authors. Book reviews, forums, guest blog posts, reading lists broken down by various themes, online resources, teen voices, and more.

More Than Just Magic. Go to “recommended reading” and click on YA lit, which will bring you to a spreadsheet with tons of information.

Malinda Lo’s blog index to LGBT YA posts

41 Transgender-friendly Books for Young Kids at Bitch magazine. This list includes main or secondary characters who identify as transgender, genderqueer characters, characters who express gender ambiguity, or deal with gender in a nontraditional way.

It’s a few years old, but I absolutely love this great It Gets Better video done by children’s authors and illustrators.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYRYpYyHMos?rel=0]

Rainbow Books. GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens.

LGBT YA Reviews

F Yeah, Queer Teen Lit tumblr. “Finding queer teen books can be difficult; this blog aims to make it less so.”

DiversifYA. “In your YA, diversifying your stories.” Click on DiversiThemes and then QUILTBAG

Diversity in YA

LGBTQ resources: BEYOND BOOKS

On these sites, you will find resources for teens, parents, people who work with/care about teens, and more.

The Trevor Project—A 24-hour toll free confidential hotline for gay and questioning youth. 844-4-U-TREVOR

The It Gets Better Project—Suicide prevention video project and website to give hope to LGBTQ teens that high school and its bullies will not last forever, that it DOES get better.

GLSEN—Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

HRC—Human Rights Campaign

Stopbullying.gov

GSA Network

GLBT Near Me. The GLBT National Help Center has this awesome site where you just plug in your zip code and can find a variety of resources near you. Their national youth talkline is toll-free 1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743)

The Nine Line For Homeless/Runaway Teens
1-800-999-9999

Advocates for Youth. Extensive links for resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. Organizations, websites, videos.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a section on LGBT Youth & Schools Resources and Links.

Know of a great resource I missed? Leave it in the comments or come tell me on Twitter @CiteSomething.

Take 5: New GLBT Titles

The Rainbow Committee is a group of readers and librarians who read and read and read all year long to put together a list of outstanding titles that focus on GLBTQ themes for kids and teens.  Unlike some of the award committees that work in super secret, the Rainbow Committee has a blog that keeps you updated.  You can view it here.  Taking a look at some of the current nominations, here are 5 2013 titles that you’ll want to check out if you are looking for new books that focus on GLBTQ issues.

Farizan, Sara. If You Could Be Mine. Algonquin Young Readers, 2013. 256 p. $16.99 (ISBN 9781616202514). Grades 9-12.

Iran is a dangerous place for two teenage girls in love.

Federle, Tim. Better Nate Than Ever. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013. 275 p. $16.99 (ISBN 9781442446892). Grades 4 and up.

How is Nate supposed to make his one dream – to star in a Broadway show – come true when he is stuck in Jankburg, Penssylvania?  The answer may involve an open casting call for E.T. The Musical.

Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. 304p. $17.99 (ISBN 9780545520775). Grades 9-12.

Love, death, technology and art all come together in this heart stopping tale set in a futuristic Brazil.

Lam, Laura. Pantomime. Osprey Publishing, 2013. 400 p. $9.99 (ISBN 9781908844378). Grades 9-12.

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic  is a place of magic.  A great place for Gene and Micah to hide, and to hide their secrets.

Moynihan, Lindsay. The Waiting Tree. Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013. 218 p. $17.99. (ISBN 9781477816349). Ages 14 and up.

Simon Peter wants to stand up for the truth of who he is, but it is hard to do in when his entire church and eldest brother have ostracized him. Note: One of the few books that talks about the controversial conversion (aka “reparative”) therapy which some states are now seeking to outlaw.

Now it’s your turn: What 2013 titles would you add to the list?  Tell us in the comments.

Malinda Lo on Two Boys Kissing (coming in the fall from David Levithan)

I just stumbled across this excellent post from Malinda Lo and wanted to make sure everyone reads it.  The most interesting part to me was in the comments where she discusses how few GLBTQ titles are actually being published.  Read the post here: http://www.malindalo.com/2013/03/on-two-boys-kissing/

Coming in the fall

What do you think of the cover for David Levthan’s new book?  What do you think of Malinda Lo’s post?  Talk with us in the comments.
More on Sex and Sexuality on TLT:  

Graphic Novel Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

If you don’t have Eisner award winner Raina Telgemeier in your collection, you need to start.

Her newest work, Drama, brings us into the world of 7th grader Callie.  Deeply in love with the theater, Callie’s dream is to design sets for Broadway.  For now, however, she’ll settle for being on set crew for her school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, and is determined to bring Broadway to Eucalyptus Middle School.  And on budget.  Yet things get complicated on stage and off when romances develop, misunderstandings blow up out of proportion, and a last minute crisis threatens the entire production.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier, published by Graphix in 2012. ISBN: 9780545326995

Review:

Drama is engaging from the first pages, and readers are grabbed from the beginning by Callie’s sense of humor and a sense of immediacy that reads exactly how a seventh grader takes EVERYTHING in their world.  Lost in her unrequited romance with Greg, Callie throws herself into her first passion: the theater.  Determined to take Moon over Mississippi to Broadway level (including a working cannon), Callie meets twin brothers Justin and Jesse, who seem to be polar opposites in every way.  Yet, will Jesse be the love Callie wants in her life?  And will the play even go on with the drama threatening the production?  Great for middle ages and up, and could be paired with Telgemeier’s other graphic novel, Smile, or theater fiction like Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon, or Pink by Lili Wilkinson4.5 out of 5 stars.  Goodreads currently lists Drama at 3.97 stars out of 5 as of February 20, 2013.  Drama is a 2013 Stonewall Children’s Award Honor Book and a 2013 Rainbow List Top 10 Book.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysWrqAMktc0]

SPOILER SPACE

I LOVED Drama.  Working day in and day out with middle school kids, Callie, Jesse and Justin could have been *my* kids- that’s how believable they were.  They have their own quirks and foibles, their own ways of acting out and reacting to situations makes them more believable.  Telgemeier’s drawings are something that I could never hope to aspire to, and have that art that draws readers of all ages and all genders in- I had my personal copy on my desk at work, and within minutes had a 21 year old “new adult,” a 12 year old, an 8 year old, and a 16 year old all want to know when I was getting it for the library or whether they could borrow my copy so they could read it.  

The romantic back-and-forth between the characters is extremely real, and for me the fact that no one is doing drugs, alcohol, or anything remotely off-kilter (aside from some possible grade cheating) is really refreshing in a graphic novel.  No one has super powers, or is solving crimes- these are real tweens and teens going through real issues.  They may be a bit more high strung than most, but I’m not sure about that.

The storyline of Justin and Jesse hits home especially hard for GLBTQ readers- Justin is completely out to his parents and friends, but it’s not until near the end of the book that anyone even suspects that Jesse is gay as well.  No one, not even Callie (who has every right to be when he deserts her at the prom), ends up mad at Jesse by the end of the book- they accept him for who he is, which is the way it should be.  

As for Callie, she is what I wish I had been like in school- she is such a strong female character with a huge sense of self that she could be someone to look up to for middle school girls.  She knows what she wants to be when she grows up, she sticks to her guns when she knows she’s right, she accomplishes everything she sets out to accomplish, and she doesn’t let her relationships (up or down) diminish her confidence in her identity.  

You Might Also Like:
 

For more theater productions gone out of control, check out No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman. And for more MG GNS, check out Cardboard by Doug Tennapel, Chickenhare by Chris Grine and Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado.

Book Review: Sparks by S.J. Adams

Ten Commandments of the Holy Church of Blue
  1. Matters of the heart come first.  Especially someone else’s heart.
  2. Be thou not an asshole.  This is the point to all religion.  Everything else is just commentary.  But exceptions can be made for people who deserve it.
  3. Goest thou on holy quests- do amazing things.  Silly, helpful, and seemingly pointless things are also acceptable.
  4. Taketh thou any detours or side trips or odd suggestions that come up, for they will lead thee to knowledge, and to adventure, and bring thee closer to Blue.
  5. Never put thy words in the mouth of Blue. Thou knowest not what sort of Spark of Blue is inside of thee, or what sort is inside of others. The entire Church of Blue is an educated guess. Remember this. Don’t get cocky.
  6. Floss thy fucking teeth. Thou only getteth one set.
  7. Weareth thou no garment that costeth thou more than a tank of gas.
  8. Thou Shalt Not Maketh Thy Home in Nebraska (Nebraska is bluish hell).

Secretly hiding the fact that her best friend is the love of her life, Debbie Woodlawn is heartbroken to find out that her BFF has gotten a boyfriend- and even worse, it’s NORMAN.  Having joined the Active Christian Teens and devoted every Friday night to Full House re-runs, Debbie is desperate to figure out how to declare her love for Lisa, so that their relationship might blossom. Enter Emma and Tim, the devotees of The Church of Blue, who take Debbie on a “holy quest” to profess her love and see what may come of it.  But will the quests of Blue take Debbie closer to Lisa, or will Debbie find out that her spark of Blue is more for something else?

Sparks is a hysterical and irreverent read from the get-go.  Debbie has joined the ACTs in order to spend all her time with her BFF- and the result is subjourning herself into the tight little box that fits into both Lisa’s religion and her mom’s worldview:  squeaky clean television and activities  while washing out her thoughts lest someone with mind-reading abilities can pick up the dirtier bits.  When Lisa gets a boyfriend, Debbie’s carefully constructed world falls apart, because she’s in love with Lisa, but never said anything.  Yet, mysteriously, she finds Emma and Tim, who have created their own religions, Bluddiasm, where holy quests are everything, everyone has their own spark of Blue that resonates within their sole, and a checklist of things that need to be done.  Thrust into their topsy-turvy world and needing to profess her love before Lisa and Norman go past first base, Debbie criss-crosses the town, learning new things about her friends and herself.

An excellent read, one that I would pair with Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or Dash & Lily’s Infinite Book of Dares for the humor.  But be forewarned, those that are extremely sensitive about their religion might not see the humor, and there are *naughty words*.  4 out of 5 stars.


I really enjoyed Sparks, and not just for the finding themselves theme that goes on within the book.  Yes, Debbie is a huge part who needs to find herself (and after 5 years of burying her personality, who wouldn’t), but we also discover a whole underground with Emma and Tim.  They start off more sidekicks to the story, but as Debbie starts on the road to Bluddism, their story fleshes out even more.  You learn that Emma has major self-esteem issues, and that has lead to (or come from) eating disorders and weight issues.  She and Tim are criss-crossed lovers, with Emma re-routing Tim’s messages from the Queen Bee because she’s scared that he’ll be with the prettier girl, while Tim just wishes that Emma would believe that she’s beautiful and special and the one he wants to be with.  The holy quest that Debbie, Emma and Tim go on is not just for Debbie, but also for Emma and Tim- like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where I always thought the movie focus should have been about Cameron and his growth rather than Ferris and how he got out of everything.

The only thing I would hesitate about with Sparks is giving it to some of your teens that you know are ultra-religious.  It does poke fun of Christian group stereotypes, and some teens might not be able to see the humor.  Others, however, will lap it right up.  Sparks is definitely one of those books that I’ll re-read over and over.
Flux by S. J. Adamds.  Published by Flux, 2011. ISBN: 978-0738726762