Tag Archives: queer YA

Queer YA Spotlight: I Kissed Shara Wheeler

Finally, finally she gets it.

Shara isn’t a monster inside of a beautiful girl, or a beautiful girl inside of a monster. She’s both, one inside of the other inside of the other.

And that truth—the whole truth of Shara—leaves no room to pretend anymore. Neither of them did all this for a title. That’s what Chloe was afraid of her friends seeing. That’s where the trail led. That’s why she couldn’t let it end.

“Oh my God,” Chloe says out loud. Her brain is overheating, probably. “I’m in love with a monster turducken.”

Premise: Chloe Green has survived her high school years at Willowgrove Christian Academy fuelled by pride, spite, and the desperate desire to beat her academic rival: principal’s daughter, prom queen, church sweetheart, and all around insufferable overachiever Shara Wheeler. Shara throws a spanner in these plans when she kisses Chloe and then vanishes from town. As if the situation needed to be any more baffling, Chloe—alongside Shara’s boyfriend Smith and neighbour Rory—start finding cryptic notes written on pink stationary in Shara’s dainty handwriting…

Rainbow rep: a very tangled main f/f romance between a bisexual protagonist and a lesbian love interest; the protagonist’s two mothers; a friend group composed of a gay guy, a lesbian gal, and a non-binary pal; various members of the ensemble cast figuring out or tentatively revealing that they are not as cis or straight as we first might believe, including a romance between a gay guy and (most likely) a second non-binary character

Content considerations: the stifling experience of being queer in a small, religious town in the American South; casual homophobia from antagonistic classmates; institutional homophobia from the school; crummy conservative parents

Gay Geography 101: small towns? Bad. Big cities? Good! If you’re in the US, you want to hit the ground running as soon as you graduate and make your way to LA or New York, where your queer future will begin. If you’re in Australia, you want to hit up Melbourne or Sydney (what? You live on the west coast and don’t want to travel that far? Tough luck! Enjoy your sprawling desert of backwards bigotry! These are the only two options!).

This is a narrative that will be familiar to many people, I’m sure, and while it has its truths, it’s also one worth… unpacking.

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Queer YA Spotlight: She Gets the Girl

I stare in awe at the massive buffet of toppings: fresh fruit, cookie dough, Oreos, sprinkles in every color imaginable. My one-size-fits-all paper cup is already filled to the brim with cookies-and-cream frozen yoghurt, but now it’s bound to overflow. My forearm is practically sore from scooping by the time I reach the end, and I glance up to see Molly has added only one small scoop of Rice Krispies on top of her strawberry yoghurt, like an actual psychopath.

“Of everything, you get THAT?” I shake my head. “No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.”

She rolls her eyes and jabs me with her elbow, giving me a Really, Alex? look that I’ve become all too familiar with over the past two weeks.

Only this time, there’s a trace of a smile underneath it all.

Premise: Molly and Alex could not be more different, yet when they end up at the same college party they realise they have something crucial in common: they’re both trying to impress the respective girl of their dreams, and they’re both falling flat on their face. Alex makes a proposal: she’ll use her charisma and wit to help Molly woo Cora, the girl Molly’s had a goofy unrequited crush on since high school, thus proving Alex’s good nature to her reluctant girlfriend, Natalie. Nothing about this plan can go wrong, and they definitely won’t fall in slow-burn, unlikely love with each other along the way.

Rainbow rep: a central f/f couple, both IDing as lesbians; multiple other sapphic characters in the ensemble cast

Content considerations: alcoholism; emotionally immature parents; brief depictions of casual sexual harassment and victim blaming

I have been known to be a sucker for a good ol’ fashioned matchmaker plot.

But no matter how much you love the taste of corn, a corny rom-com cannot carry on its premise and tropes alone: it needs characters you can believe in and get attached to, so you’re compelled to stick around and watch their affection for one another grow and fall into place. That, I reckon, is where She Gets the Girl, written by wife and wife duo Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick, shines.

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Queer YA Spotlight: Ophelia After All

I had a few hours to spare before getting ready, so I decided to flip through and read my old annotations, remembering that I’d highlighted every single one of Ophelia’s lines, because of course I did. I stopped on act 4, scene 5, Ophelia’s mad scene, and amid her convoluted meltdown, noticed the line “Lord we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

I’d read it before, obviously, but never paid it much attention. And I’m not sure why.

Or, maybe I do know. I’ve spent most of my life telling myself I know who I am—a lifeboat of identity in the turbulent waves of growing up. A hopeless romantic, a rose gardener, a chismosa, a girl who falls for every boy who looks her way.

I forgot there are parts of me I’ve yet to discover, versions of me I’ve yet to become.

Premise: Having been “boy-crazy Ophelia” for so many years, our heroine has no idea what to do when she starts to develop one of her infamous, fluttery, heartfelt crushes on a girl. As the clock ticks down towards graduation, Ophelia feels isolated, terrified of changing the image her friends and family have of her just before they split up for college… and yet, on closer inspection, maybe Ophelia isn’t as alone in her queer identity crisis as she might have thought…

Rainbow rep: a protagonist working out her orientation, attracted to multiple genders and trying to figure out a label that fits; a queer ensemble cast including an aromantic girl, a pansexual boy, a bisexual girl, a biromantic ace boy, and a boy who normally likes girls but sometimes has sexy dreams about boys and what does that mean?? Who knows, bro?

Content considerations: mild internalised homophobia/biphobia; depictions of homophobic family members; one pretty accurate and painful appearance of a “political correctness has gone mad” dudebro.

Oh Ophelia, you’ve been on my mind since I finished this book.

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A Pile of YA Novels with Non-binary Protagonists (Part 1!)

For my thesis (which is now actually “nearly done” and will, come hell or high water, actually be submitted sometime in the middle of 2022) I analysed YA novels with non-binary protagonists. When I tell people that, often they’re surprised that there are enough books in that niche to make a study out of. And I get to say “yeah! There’s more than you might expect! In fact, I had to change the whole format of a chapter because there were too many to talk about all at once!”

So in celebration of nearly, actually, almost being done, and in celebration of the many fantastic books that have filled this category over the past couple of years (making said thesis, in its current state, possible!) I’ve compiled a pile of them for your perusal.

Please note this is only a handful of personal recommendations from within my studies: there are others I haven’t written about and others I haven’t read yet. Plus, this list is narrowed to non-binary protagonists (here defined as “a main POV character”) and if I included texts with non-binary love interests or ensemble cast members, there would be even more! More books exploring the complexity of gender in a variety of genres are being published each year, so no doubt I’ll come back and make more lists in future! For now, though, read on…

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Heartbreak Bakery

“Sometimes I come up with these little recipes… like, gender recipes. For how I want to look or feel that day.” I may be an agender cupcake, but I have to live in a world where most things have been flavored with gender. Even when I was little, I mixed and played and had fun with those flavors. I showed up to second-grade picture day in a pink shirt with neon yellow suspenders and a blue plaid tie. I made it through most of eighth grade in big unlaced work boots, black tights, and overall shorts. And then there’s my baking uniform: guys’ baggy jeans, a binder or sports bra under a fitted t-shirt, and a bright sunny apron.

“Gender recipes,” Harley echoes. “That’s very Syd of you.”

“I’m sorry, it’s ridiculous, I know.” […]

“It’s not ridiculous,” Harley says. “It’s true.”

Premise: Baking is Syd’s passion, and, like with all creative outlets, feelings end up poured into the work alongside the butter and flour. When Syd is dumped by a long-term girlfriend, Syd’s immediate coping mechanism is to bake a batch of brownies. But Syd’s heartache infuses the chocolatey treats, and everyone who eats them—including many patrons of the queer-owned community space and bakery where Syd works—quickly goes through their own horrendous heartbreak. Syd embarks on a quest to undo the delicious but disastrous damage, slowly figuring out that not everything in life, identity, and romance has a strict recipe.

Rainbow representation: an agender protagonist, a demisexual non-binary love interest, and not a single straight person in the entire multitudinous background cast save for Syd’s lovey-dovey parents.

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Genre-Savvy Protagonists in Queer YA Rom-coms

The rules of the romantic comedy are simple and easy to learn, especially when you’re in love with the concept of love… but what if you’re an LGBTQIA+ teenager and this formula has historically cut you out? Well, you have to tweak those rules to make your own.

Presented as a “podcast” for Deakin University’s online Concepts in Popular Genres symposium, 6 – 8 December 2021. A transcript is available here!

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Girl From the Sea

Premise: Fifteen-year-old Morgan nearly drowns one night, but is saved by a beautiful selkie. Convinced that she’s dreaming, Morgan smooches her right on the mouth—and is shocked when said selkie then turns up on her doorstep the next morning, very real and ready to confess her love. This throws a spanner in Morgan’s plans to lay low and stay firmly closeted until she can graduate and leave her tiny island town. But maybe the magic seal-girl from the sea isn’t the only one able to undergo a transformation…

Rainbow rep: an f/f romance, a lesbian protagonist coming to terms with her identity

Content considerations: characters being outed (in a low-stakes, ultimately supportive environment); characters nearly drowning

Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Girl From the Sea is absolutely gorgeous, visually and emotionally. It’s a sweet supernatural romance that, despite its magical aspects, stays very grounded in the emotional reality of being fifteen: ducking your head and trying to get by while expectations hover over you like a flock of hungry seagulls.

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Playing with Genre and Queer Narrative in the Novels of Malinda Lo

I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!

Abstract:

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!

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Queer YA Spotlight: Gearbreakers

It makes sense that, when the times were desperate enough, when the people were frenzied enough, at a certain point we went past praying to deities and started to build them instead.

Premise: Godolia maintains its military might with the Windups: giant mechs piloted by cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, capable of wiping out entire towns should they not comply. But godlike robots are still made of nuts and bolts, and their greatest threat remains the rebel Gearbreakers who can climb inside and take them apart. Eris is a Gearbreaker, and thinks she’s met her mortal enemy when she comes face to face with Windup pilot Sona. But Sona is a war orphan like Eris, and has infiltrated the pilot program to try and dismantle Godolia from within.

Rainbow rep: a central f/f romance, queer side characters

Content considerations: non-detailed torture scenes; parental death; child soldiers; copious injuries described in fairly gnarly detail; the horrors of war in general

Gearbreakers kicks ass. That is really the only adequate way I can convey the impression that Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut novel left on me. I’m talking gorgeous, evocative writing. I’m talking complex, vicious, and lovable protagonists. I’m talking metal-wrenching ass-kicking heart-stopping fight scenes. I’m talking girls falling in love. I’m talking giant robots. Giant robots. I was initially sceptical that mecha, as visual a genre as it is, would translate into prose, but not only did it translate, but the high-octane action was relatively easy to follow, and conveyed a fantastic sense of scale, terror, and unrestrained Cool Factor.

Gearbreakers kicks ass.

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Mirror Season

That night left each of us holding pieces of broken glass. And ever since, we have been gripping them. We have been clenching our fingers around them, the edges cutting into our palms, blood on the silver.

We may never be able to set them down for good. They may be in our hands forever, something we’re always holding. But we don’t have to grip them. We don’t have to hold them so tightly that they’re forever cutting our fingers.

Instead, we hold them as lightly as we can. We let them rest on our palms. We don’t help them do the work of drawing our blood.

We live with them. We learn the ways that broken things can catch the light.

Premise: after Ciela and a boy she hardly knows are sexually assaulted by classmates at a party, Ciela’s world begins to change. She loses the ability she’s always had to guess exactly what sweets and pan dulce her customers want and need. The seasonal winds are eerily still. Trees are vanishing inexplicably from the neighbourhood. And, most troubling, everywhere Ciela goes objects and plants are turning to mirrored glass. When the boy turns up at school, Ciela sees someone she needs to protect—and wonders if them helping each other recover is what might bring the magic back.

Content considerations: sexual trauma as a main theme, the act itself described in detail; systemic racism, internalised victim-blaming

Rainbow rep: a pansexual protagonist, her ex-girlfriend turned best friend, various queer side characters

This is a beautifully written book about a difficult subject, making it simultaneously really fun and really stressful to read. It’s also a book I really want to tell people about, but it’s difficult to write on. I want to sing to the skies how good The Mirror Season was, but I also find myself just… floating, haunted yet serene, in the waters of the feelings this story left with me. That’s a kind of magic in itself, I suppose.

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