Wednesday, 3 October 2012

LGBT YA fiction

I have a great fondness for Young Adult (YA) fiction, and my job gives me a great excuse to read a lot of it, without feeling I should be reading something more lengthy and, well, adult.  At its best, YA fiction is everything 'proper' adult fiction is, and more.  Dealing with the period of confusion and flux that is the teenage years, YA novels are well placed to tackle a huge variety of issues, and they generally do so without the preachy 'this book is about something very important' overtones of adult fiction.  They often make quick, easy, but not unchallenging reading for those times you can't quite cope with Bleak House or the latest Pat Barker, but want something that will entertain and provoke discussion in equal measure.  YA fiction can also be something of an escape for adult readers: when you're struggling with the mortgage or fretting about your shrivelling ovaries (ahem, not that I do this), it's comforting to be taken back to the days when the biggest things to worry about was a biology test and whether that cute girl/boy smiled at you in tutor time.

But of course, it's easy to get rose-tinted about your teenage years, when the reality is that growing up is hard to do, and growing up queer is immeasurably harder.  So thank goodness there are some really fantastic YA novels that speak to the LGBT experience (but don't necessarily have to just be for an LGBT audience).  Bitch magazine's blogs have recently started a fascinating series about LGBT YA books, called Beyond Judy Blume, which prompted me to think about my three favourite recent(ish) LGBT teen novels are...
1. The Shell House by Linda Newberry
Greg is beginning his A-Levels in contemporary Essex.  Edmund, heir to the imposing Graveney Hall, is an officer fighting in the trenches during World War 1, and in love with fellow soldier Alex.  As Greg becomes more confused about his developing friendship with his classmate, Jordan, it becomes clear that he might have more in common with Edmund than first seemed.  This is such a wonderful, magical novel about faith, self-discovery, grief, friendship, history... there's so much to enjoy.  I was in equal parts frustrated and intrigued by the ambiguous ending, which forced me to conclude Greg's story to my own satisfaction.

2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Paul lives in a town where there isn't a gay scene or a straight scene, "they all got mixed up a while back".  The school quarterback is also the homecoming queen and being gay is no big deal.  Criticised for presenting a falsely optimistic picture of young gay life, I think this book is an important acting out of a fantasy world in which homophobia doesn't exist (or at least, not until you meet Tony's Christian parents).  Funny, uplifting and moving, I never tire of re-reading it.

3. Centre Of My World by Andreas Steinhofel
Gorgeous literary novel about seventeen year old Phil, living in a big house on the outskirts of a small German town where he and his family are outcasts.  He's waiting for the right guy to come along: might Nicholas be the one?  I read this doorstep of a novel in one sitting, in a bar in the rather fitting setting of Cologne.  It's lovely, and a bit heartbreaking.

1 comment:

  1. Hello
    I was trying to contact you but couldn't find an e-mailaddress. Could you contact me - I would like to ask you something about these books (teacher-to-teacher) :-).