I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!
Malinda Lo has been an invaluable voice in the emerging field of queer YA fiction, both for her accessible statistics on the representation of LGBTQIA+ identities in traditional publishing, and for the content of her novels. Her fictional works place sapphic protagonists into genre narratives – sci-fi, fairy tale, thriller – that are traditionally presumed to be the realm of straight heroes. But the queer rebellion in Lo’s writing goes beyond simply casting queer characters into genres and roles that have historically been considered heteronarrative: Lo’s work is an example of what I define here as ‘queer narrative play’, a process of deliberately and visibly troubling, tweaking, and upturning readers’ expectations of the roles and functions of queer characters within recognisable genre frameworks, deftly challenging the historical binary that has existed between ‘mainstream’ genre fiction and ‘marginal’ queer coming-of-age stories.
Following from Tzvetan Todorov’s suggestion that “genres function as ‘horizons of expectation’”, this paper will explore how Lo’s body of work playfully challenges the traditional representation of LGBTQIA+ characters in a variety of methods; from creating speculative worlds that remove the need for narratives such as the coming-out story, to drawing readers’ attention to tragic queer tropes in order to make later subversions of them visible. Queer narrative play is an example of the ways in which contemporary YA writers may enact a rebellious conversation between author and reader, creating playful and progressive new works by reshaping the pre-existing materials of literary expectations, and Lo’s work makes for a stellar example of the craft.
Read and download the full text here!
I always admire authors that can switch between genres with ease, just as I admire authors who can write progressive stuff without wholly making a fanfare of how progressive they’re being. And if nothing else, I have to admire Malinda Lo not just for her lovely and addictive prose but for her ability to create a problem opposite to what I usually have: being emotionally invested in a YA love triangle and legitimately interested in how it turns out, perhaps even more than my interest in the main spine of the story. Holy cow, right? Is that even possible?
Malinda Lo has two branches to her writing career, the first being the fantastical Ash and Huntress, set in the same world but many years apart, and the modern-day (quite literally set a little while into the future after it was written, which gives you a hell of a surreal feeling when the story dates itself at August 4th 2014 and you’re reading it on August 2nd) sci-fi conspiracies-and-aliens-and-psychic-powers-oh-my! duology Adaptation and Inheritance. As previously discussed, the two genres really are two sides of the same coin, and though I feel like she has an easier grip of her fantasy books (the writing is much prettier, in any case) each of Lo’s series are as enjoyable as each other and retain an aftertaste recognisable to all her writing. And bisexuals. Did I mention that?
Sorry, I’m just a little excited. Apparently it’s a tricky thing to deal with in fiction, most likely because it’s also a tricky thing to deal with in real life and the swathes of erasure and negative stigmas against bisexual people in both. Which is a shame, because first of all and on a serious note, that’s ruining a lot of lives and pushing a lot of people into closets they don’t want to be in. And secondly because, as I talked about before, there’s something inherently interesting about a multi-gender love triangle, perhaps because it’s just a break from the norm (girl torn between two hunks, or hunk with two girls at war over him, typically) or because people attracted to more than one gender simply gives way to even larger and wackier love quadrangle shenanigans. I love a good tangle of affection, when they’re done well. And my gosh does Malinda Lo do it well. Continue reading
Love triangles as A Thing still peeve me on a deep and fundamental level. However, there’s a strangely unexplored variation on them that I allow the good grace of being interesting. Bisexual love triangles—food for thought, no? Your plucky teenaged heroine sits at the centre of a romantic subplot trying to choose between two love interests as she invariably does, yet one of them is a guy and the other is a girl. It’s simple enough, and good in a lot of ways, yet it’s so far underused in mainstream fiction.
Firstly, they acknowledge that bisexuals exist, if only in a fantastical fictional context because of course they’re a mythical creature of the woodlands in the world we live in. And, in having said bisexual as the main character, they’re immediately presented as sympathetic and heroic and, you know, a normal well-rounded character and person, and not marginalised, stereotyped or included to be titillating. And a full blown love triangle calls for proper development of their relationship, both with their male and female love interests, which staves off the problem bisexual heroines can run into where they’re only labelled as bi in passing because they made out with a girl in university, which is either used for comedy, fan service or a reject-shop-cheap attempt at being inclusive and modern.
It also gives you an immediate second major female character, which is always nice. It’s a little refreshing to see a break from the tried-and-died formula of heroine torn between two hunks! and again, allows for a legit LGBTQ+ relationship to be fleshed out in fiction and provides characters that readers who don’t fit the traditional mould can see themselves in. Of course, including another girl as one point of the triangle doesn’t magically elevate the story from the pit of clichés and problems that teen love triangles seem to be rooted in. E.g., If you’ve got a heroine wobbling to pieces trying to work out what her feelings are doing when she should be focussing on saving the world from whatever, it’s not going to be any less annoying just because one of her love interests is a young woman. There are pros as well as cons to this flip-flop of the norm, as there are with most things that end up in books. Continue reading