Tag Archives: YA

Queer YA Spotlight: The Honeys

I need to be rational, but in the darkness it’s easy to conclude that whatever spell I’ve surfaced from is supernatural. Out in the woods, with nothing but the steam of my own breath and the mournful plea of the loons off the lake, phantoms feel material.

This doesn’t scare me. I don’t fear the dark. I know the dark, and it knows me. Within it, I’m safe from the sun’s lovely illusions. I know what I’ve always known: that the monsters worth fearing are the ones that are dangerous enough to hide in daylight.

Premise: when Mars’ twin sister, Caroline, suddenly dies under horrifying circumstances, he suspects foul play. He suspects most of all that it has something to do with Aspen Summer Academy, the prestigious summer camp Caroline had been attending—the camp Mars had to leave behind after vicious bullying. No one believes Mars when he says so, but there’s something truly eerie about Aspen’s sun-drenched meadows and idyllic log cabins. What dark secrets lie behind the camp’s cheery exterior? What violence is being hidden and excused under the banner of tradition? And… what’s that buzzing sound?

Rainbow rep: a genderfluid protagonist; binary gender roles and expectations played for horror (note: in the book, it’s stated that Mars is fine with any pronouns and shifts between them all the time. For the purposes of this post, I’m following the marketing copy and using he/him)

Content considerations: supernatural body horror; violence and injuries described in gnarly detail; systemic misogyny; toxic masculinity; bullying; implied/off-page sexual violence against side characters

Summer camps seem like a perfect horror setting. To me, personally—a kid prone to homesickness, frequently bullied, and decidedly bad at sports—staying in the middle of the countryside with a bunch of strange children doing outdoor activities for eight weeks already sounds like a nightmare scenario long before Jason Voorhees walks out of the lake with a big knife.

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Monster of Her Age

‘I think—aside from the adrenaline rush and vicarious feeling of surviving something just like the characters after you’ve watched a scary movie—I think I love horror so much because the whole world can be one big scary place, and especially for women, right?’ Riya carelessly flicks her plait, and brushes stray curls away from her face—something I’m beginning to notice she does when she’s excited. ‘But there’s something freeing about choosing to walk into a dark cinema and be scared. To take control and let yourself be frightened, to give yourself over to it. Because we don’t get a lot of say in what happens to us in the real world and the times we’re scared when we don’t want to be. Because there’s some creep on a train brushing up against you, or some perv at a party who thinks you being wasted is a free pass…’

In my head I think, Or some adults who think fear is entertainment, that your vulnerability is their authentic vision brought to life.

Riya continues, ‘But choosing fear? In a controlled environment, where the stories can push us to think about what we’d do in that situation—especially when most of the time the hero in a horror film is a woman—that’s amazing! That’s powerful.’

Premise: Ellie Marsden’s grandmother is the (in)famous Lottie Lovinger, who made her screen debut as a cricket-bat-wielding, mini-shorts-wearing Final Girl in a ‘70s slasher movie and has been an undisputed scream queen ever since. Once, Ellie wanted to follow in her footsteps, but her one experience as a child actor left her traumatised—and estranged from Lottie, who let the on-set abuse happen. But when Lottie has a stroke, Ellie must return home and reckon with her complicated relationship with the Lovinger family legacy. Was Lottie a heroine, or a monster? Can a person be both at once?

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Non-binary Narration: The Potential of POV in YA Novels with Genderqueer Characters

Watch along for a dip into some of my research on the different ways writers can use POV—first-person, close third-person, or the “voice of god” omniscient third-person—to tell different kinds of queer stories and affirm the identities of their non-binary characters in different ways. I use a small sample of recent YA novels as examples, and even talk a little about my own novel manuscript 👀

Please also enjoy my cowboy shirt, the way my glasses sometimes go fully white in the sunshine like an anime character, and the dorky eye-catching thumbnail I made.

Originally presented, virtually, at the Australian Children’s Literature Association for Research conference, 1st July 2022.

Transcript:

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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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The Best Books I Read in 2021

2021 was another categorically Really Weird Year, but gosh there were some good books! This is my personal list of favourites, ranging from chaotic coming-of-age comedies to mythical urban fantasies to mecha battles to portal fantasies to time-hopping romances and back again. Take a look and see what catches your eye—and as always, let me know what your favourite reads were! There are always, always more novels to add to the pile.

(A title like “Best Queer Books I Read in 2021” would be superfluous—basically, assume these have queer protagonists or at least main ensemble cast members. It is the sensible option at this point on this blog)

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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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