Today’s guest blogger is Dylan Schroeder from Fraser Valley Regional Library (Dylan.firstname.lastname@example.org). Dylan recently did several excellent presentations to FVRL staff on the topic of RA in YA with an LGBT focus. Here are his thoughts:
YA Lit is known by and large for a few big series, flagship titles that sell tens of thousands of copies and becoming big Hollywood movies- with varying levels of success. Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games are probably the most notable entries in the genre in the last ten years. It’s interesting to note then, that in the text of these books there isn’t a single LGBT character. “But wait”, you say, preparing to brain me in the head with your copy of Deathly Hallows, “Dumbledore is gay! JK Rowling told us so! “ You’re right, she did tell us so. After all the books came out, when it didn’t really matter anymore. Subtext is all very well and good, people have been locking in on homoerotic subtext for years, just go read any fanfiction on the internet and you’ll see what I mean, but it doesn’t do an LGBT reader any good while they’re actually reading the series and it’s never stated that Dumbledore is gay. Representation is important, and in the books being gay is not a part of Dumbledore’s character identity, and we the reader only learn he’s gay after he’s dead. I’m not trying to sound like I’m being hard on J.K Rowling because at least she made the effort, in a sort of have your cake and eat it too, sort of way. Twilight and The Hunger Games are both completely free of LGBT characters. Considering the author of Twilight, I suppose we shouldn’t’ be that surprised, but I don’t’ think it would have been terribly difficult for Suzanne Collins to have made Finnick bisexual, he being a well paid prostitute, and Johanna would have been an easy choice to add a prominent lesbian character. Alas.
So, that’s the bad news. The big three don’t really have much for an LGBT reader to get excited about, but if you’re looking to recommend some NYT bestseller realm titles, all hope is not lost. The Divergent series, which is attempting to nip at the heels of The Hunger Games, albeit with a less interesting heroine and some cut and paste worldbuilding, does have a few LGBT characters. There is a (presumably) lesbian character, Lynn in the second book. Unfortunately she dies, and she doesn’t really receive a lot of attention or character development. The third book adds a pair of gay male characters who receive even less attention than Lynn, but at least they exist, and Roth acknowledges that gay people exist. A similar situation exists in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series. The second two books contain a pair of gay characters that the main character befriends, they’re shown as nice and brave, but that’s about it. The popular House of Night series also has a pair of gay characters, one of whom is unfortunately killed part way through the series.
These characters are all fairly minor, but as luck would have it there are a few huge YA series that have more substantial LGBT characters. The Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray has a lesbian character, Felicity, who is one of the four main characters of the series and is given a very rich characterization. The series is set in Victorian England and what that would mean for a young girl who was gay is explored quite delicately. Cassandra Clare is a fairly divisive author in the YA genre, but her books have LGBT characters of multiple varieties, the two most prominent being Alec and Magnus, who are both major characters in the series and receive a large amount of focus and development. In recent and honestly very exciting news, Rick Riordan has revealed in his latest novel that Nico D’Angelo, a prominent character in both The Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series is in love with Percy Jackson himself. This is a big deal because these series are technically middle grade and are very very popular. Middle grade sees very few LGBT characters and so the impact of Nico’s character is huge. He’s well developed, outside of being gay, and is a very relatable character for LGBT young people. I’ll be more impressed if Riordan gives him a happy ending, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens when the final book comes out.
I’ve been specifically talking about series, not stand-alones, and ones that are exceedingly popular, LGBT characters do appear in some slightly less popular series. Holly Black’s Tithe series, Sarah Rees Brennan’s the Demon’s Lexicon and Lynburn Legacies series, Carrie Mac’s Droughtlanders all very prominently feature LGBT characters. In terms of stand-alone there are a wide range of LGBT YA books of varying qualities, but I think that’s a discussion for another blog-post.
The question now is, how long is it until we get a blockbuster YA series that is helmed by an LGBT character? Scott Tracey wrote an excellent series called Witch Eyes, and it’s a real shame that it didn’t get more attention, because it follows the classic “special main character moves to a new place and meets a boy who they want to date, but can’t because forces are driving them apart” trope that these things seem to love. This time the main character is gay, but it’s not played up as a particularly big deal. Alas, maybe the next Hunger Games or Twilight will be about an LGBT person, but I think it might be a ways off yet.