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“Our kisses were seismic”: Positive sexual experiences in LGBTQIA+ YA books

Part of the Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature Project has included posts looking at enthusiastic consent, positive and healthy sexual experiences, and on-the-page consensual sex scenes (check out those posts here by Karen Jensen, Christa Desir, and Carrie Mesrobian). While it’s important to look at and discuss rape, consent, abuse, and violence, it’s equally as important to present plenty of healthy, positive, and enjoyable experiences for teen readers to show them what desire looks like and how it can play out. The field of books about LGBTQIA+ teens is growing in leaps and bounds. We are lucky that we can hand so many books to teenagers where the characters have happy and fulfilling relationships, where things are not all doom and gloom, and where sexual behaviors actually take place on the page, rather than some fade to black scenes. There is power in representation, in being seen, in seeing hope and happiness.

 

two boysOne of my favorite books that falls into this category is David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. In it, Craig and Harry, former boyfriends and now best friends, set out to break the world record for the longest kiss (32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds). Their kiss is recorded and streamed live to a worldwide audience. Levithan writes, “They are kissing to show the world that it’s okay for two boys to kiss.” And kiss they do.

 

Here are two of my favorite parts:

“Harry has kissed Craig so many times, but this is different from all of the kisses that have come before. At first there were the excited dating kisses, the kisses used to punctuate their liking of each other, the kisses that were both proof and engine of their desire. Then the more serious kisses, the its-getting-serious kisses, followed by the relationship kisses—that variety pack, sometimes intense, sometimes resigned, sometimes playful, sometimes confused. Kisses that led to making out and kisses that led to saying goodbye. Kisses to mark territory, kisses meant only for private, kisses that lasted hours and kisses that were gone before they arrived.”

 

“Two boys kissing. You know what this means … When we kissed, we knew how powerful it was. Our kisses were seismic. When seen by the wrong person, they could destroy us. When shared with the right person, they had the power of confirmation, the force of destiny … And even as it becomes commonplaces, the power is still there. Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little bit more. Your world. The world we left. The world we left you. This is the power of a kiss: It does not have the power to kill you. But it has the power to bring you to life.”

 

gone gone goneHow about a bit from Craig and Lio in Hannah Moskotwitz’s Gone, Gone, Gone:

“He pushes me up against the counter. I’m cold everywhere he touches me, except my mouth, my mouth is burning against his mouth. I’m all wet. I’m melting.”

 

“…I kiss him in my kitchen like I’ve never kissed anyone in my life. It feels a little hilarious, like I’m trying to sweep his whole body into mine. Starting with hands, then arms, then lips.”

 

“We are in the bed, squeaking on the mattress. We are all arms and legs and mouths. I’ve never kissed like this before. I feel like I’m falling into him.

‘I like your hair,’ he says.

‘Mmm.’

His hand underneath my t-shirt. I shiver. ‘However far you want to go, Craig.’

‘Yeah?’

‘It’s fine with me. I’m ready.’

He kisses me hard, for a long time teeth are against my lips.

He whispers, ‘Li? Can we just sleep tonight?’

I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. But it’s all right. There will be other nights. There will be. And again and again and again.”

 

about a girlSarah McCarry’s About A Girl has some great scenes too:

“… But the unmapped landscape I had cross with him that night in his room compared not at all to the country in which I now found myself, to this girl who moved beneath me and above me like a serpent, lithe and strong, her muscles like cables snapping beneath her skin, the exquisite softness of her mouth a sweet counterpoint to the hard plans of her body …. I looked deep into the bright honey of her eyes and found that I had lost myself altogether, that had she not whispered my name over and over as she kissed me … I should have forgotten it altogether, and it was only the sound of my own name in her mouth, her tongue shaping it as she shaped me, that brought me back to myself, and not long after that there was nothing left for her to say at all, and I was nothing more than a body singing, a body reborn and born again, utterly hers in the dark.”

 

 

I asked on Twitter for people to share with me their favorite YA relationships/scenes/books featuring enthusiastic consent and healthy, positive relationships. Thanks for all of the wonderful input! Let us know in the comments or on Twitter your favorite books, relationships, and scenes! 

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Book Review: Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer

 

proofImagine you could go back in time and relive 5 days of your life. Would you make the same choices, knowing what you know now? Would you hope you were altering the future? Would you want to maybe stay in the past? These are the questions the characters in Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer struggle with when a photo booth turns into a time machine and sends them back two years to when they were all 15.

 

Zoe, Joy, Tali, and Luce used to be best friends. They stuck together each summer at Camp Okahatchee. But two years ago, everything changed. Joy dropped out of all of their lives, and they just sort of drifted apart. But now Joy has brought them together, just before they are to head off to college, for the camp reunion. They all have their own things going on. Zoe has just that day broken up with her boyfriend, Calvin, after deciding she just isn’t feeling the relationship (and, if she’s being honest, she’s never really felt into any of her relationships). Tali is a wealthy “ugly-duckling-turned-swan” (her wording) who is about to find out some upsetting news about her family. Luce is gearing up to head to Princeton, where she ostensibly will continue her record of being perfect and excelling in everything she does. She’s also about to have sex with Andrew, her longtime boyfriend, before the camp reunion, but Tali shows up and ruins that plan. And Joy… well, no one knows what’s going on with her. Even though she’s the one who’s brought them together, we don’t really learn what’s going on with her until the very end of the book.

 

When they attempt a group picture in a photo booth, they’re somehow taken back two years in time. They figure they have 5 days to try and recreate the past to obtain the objects they were holding in the picture from the time they were originally 15—that seems like their only hope for somehow getting back to the future. They try to follow the past exactly as it happened before, but that’s a lot more challenging than they’d expected. Frankly, making the same choices and hoping for the same outcomes starts to look incredibly unappealing to most of them pretty quickly. In this extremely unexpected second chance summer, they learn surprising things about themselves that will likely alter their futures. And spending 5 days rekindling what felt like long-dead friendships? It turns out to happen just in the nick of time.

 

The characters are distinctive and all travel their own paths during their repeat week, but come together for the things that matter. It’s a fun, thoughtful, and unpredictable look at who we let ourselves become and redefining ourselves.

 

(P.S–My only quibble is this line: “…some infinities are bigger than others.” It completely pulled me out of the book. Are you intentionally quoting John Green, I wondered? I didn’t like it.) EDITING THIS TO INCLUDE PART OF THE COMMENT LEXA LEFT ON THIS POST: “Did you read the galley version? I just wanted to let you know that I am almost positive I actually changed the “infinity” line you mentioned for the final book (beginning of ch.20, right?)–for that exact reason! I hadn’t read TFIOS when I wrote the first draft of this book but by the time I had, I realized John Green now practically owns the concept (even though it’s something basic everyone learns in high school math).”

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062330376

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 6/2/2015

Book Review: Heat of the Moment by Lauren Barnholdt

I’m going to summarize the entire plot of Lauren Barnholdt’s Heat of the Moment in one sentence for you, okay? Here it is: Lyla really wants to have sex with her boyfriend Derrick while they’re in Florida for their senior class trip, but she’s surprised to find herself suddenly (and desperately) attracted to Beckett, much to her consternation.

 

That’s pretty much it. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Yes, there is of course (a bit more) to it: she ends up rooming with her two former best friends and she’s receiving constant emails that she wrote to herself when she was 14 telling her to learn how to trust. We get a little of her backstory—her family situation, why she’s estranged from Aven and Quinn (the former BFFs), her relationship with Derrick. But really it’s about sex and attraction. Lyla is thinking about sex all the time. She really wants Florida to be the setting for that perfect first time with Derrick—even though it appears they haven’t really ever talked about having sex or wanting to have sex, despite having dated for 2 years and been doing “everything but” for a long time. Really? I suppose it’s possible to have not talked about it. Derrick doesn’t seem nearly as excited about this plan to have sex as Lyla is. He says they shouldn’t rush it and should take some time to think about it (especially now that he’s pissed that Lyla caught a ride to the airport with Beckett after they both missed the school bus that took their class there). Lyla doesn’t seem deterred by Derrick’s attitude (though she does wonder why he is hesitant—what guy wouldn’t be psyched that his girlfriend is initiating a conversation about sex, she wonders). She continues to think about sex, hoping it will be romantic and special, wondering how long it will take and other fine details. She thinks about birth control, wondering if Derrick will have a condom (though, really, Lyla—this was your plan; go buy those condoms yourself, girl), wondering if she should go on the pill, etc. Lyla keeps pushing for it to happen and Derrick keeps holding her at bay (for reasons that never become super clear), asking her if she’s sure, if she’ll regret it.

 

And then there’s Beckett. Lyla, against all rational thought, is unbelievably attracted to him. She thinks he’s hot. Pretty quickly after they start hanging around each other, she’s picturing kissing him, making out with him. Yes, all of this is happening while she’s also getting ready to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. She knows it’s not right, but can’t seem to help herself: she’s into Beckett. Even though he’s sometimes kind of douchey (and so is Derrick, and so is Lyla for that matter), she is drawn to him. And when they eventually (and inevitably) kiss, it’s no surprise. She thinks to herself, “One of my personalities is totally normal and loves Derrick and is excited about this trip. My other personality is some kind of sex-crazed maniac who can’t seem to keep her boobs inside her top and wants to kiss and cheat with every guy she sees.”

 

Personally, I adore Lyla. I love that she’s sex-crazed, that she makes crappy choices, that she lies, she’s confused, she’s stubborn. She’s real. She’s a type of girl we don’t get to see a lot of in YA—someone who’s constantly thinking about sex. I just wish she had more people to talk to about it than Derrick, who doesn’t seem as interested as she does. A lot of her thoughts and desires are kept in her head. Her former friends she’s rooming with, Aven and Quinn, are pretty peripheral characters who only are used for convenient plot purposes in this story, though the cliffhanger ending makes it pretty clear they will play a big part in book two. Readers who don’t mind an extremely thin plot will fly through this story of lust, mistakes, and trust. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062321398
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 5/12/2015