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Book Review: THIS BOOK IS GAY by James Dawson

this book is gayI always love when a book has a cover or title that just screams PICK ME UP OFF THE SHELF! While we all know better than to (just) judge a book by its cover, a recent conversation with my teenage friends in YA book club was a good reminder that when browsing packed bookstore or library shelves, a lot of us judge books by covers because we have to—how else do you know where to start picking things up and browsing them? James Dawson’s THIS BOOK IS GAY will leap off the shelf at readers.


In David Levithan’s introduction, he calls it a handy guidebook. The book is filled with Dawson’s stories, facts, charts, illustrations, and stories of more than 300 LGBT* (his acronym) people. In July 2013, Dawson conducted a national survey on the issues covered here. This is where the quotes, some statistics, and in-depth interviews came from. Dawson says to think of this book as an instruction manual. He notes that everyone has their own individual experiences, identities, and opinions.


Dawson covers a lot of ground in his book. He writes about sexual thoughts and feelings, wondering about sexuality, labels and how they can change, history, slang, scientific theories, biological differences, stereotypes, subcultures, fear, heteronormative values, institutional homophobia and transphobia, paranoia, the history of HIV/AIDS, bullying, discrimination, dating violence, sexual abuse, bullying, depression, and suicide. WHEW, right? He goes on to look at homophobia around the world, what we can do about it, various views from various religions, coming out, where to meet other LGBT* folks, sex, STIs, relationships, promiscuity, monogamy, marriage, babies, and so much more. The book ends with an A-Z of “gay saints,” has a chapter for guidance for parents and caregivers of LGBT* youth, a cheat sheet of “weird” terms, and helplines and other resources.


In many ways, this is a great resource. The conversational tone and whimsical illustrations make it easily accessible and easy to flip through. It’s both serious and funny, covers a ton of topics, and is a great starting point for anyone looking to know more about being gay or coming out. STARTING POINT is a good word to laser in on. With Dawson writing as a gay cis male, much of the book skews this way. Dawson says he used the acronym LGBT* “to represent the full and infinite spectrum of sexual and gender identities.” But most these identities get little to no coverage throughout the book. The book is exactly what the title tells us, GAY. While I had some issues with the things that got ignored or glossed over (and a few times bristled at terms used or explanations), this book is generally a fine starting point. If we view this as a basic introduction to LGBT* issues and experiences, it (usually) works. Its frank discussions and personal stories are extremely useful, especially if you think of a teen reader coming across this book when he/she/they might most need it. I wish this book were one of a series, with other titles being things like THIS BOOK IS ASEXUAL, THIS BOOK IS NON-BINARY, THIS BOOK IS PANSEXUAL, THIS BOOK IS INTERSECTIONAL (I could keep going, but you get my point). The main message of this book—be you and be proud—is an important one and one that teenagers especially can never hear enough times. For gay cis boys, this is a pretty great resource. For everyone else, start here, but seek out more nuanced and inclusive materials as your next step.



ISBN-13: 9781492617822

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 6/16/2015