Tuesday 30 July 2013

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Guest Post: 6 LGBT Young Adult Novels with a Twist by Erica Gillingham

Today, I'm honoured to have Erica Gillingham stop by my blog. Erica is a MPhil/Phd student at the University of Roehampton in Children’s Literature, researching romance in contemporary young adult fiction with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters. Erica's here to recommend LGBT novels that differ from your normal novel.

Erica Gillingham6 LGBT Young Adult Novels with a Twist by Erica Gillingham

Who doesn’t love a great young adult novel with LGBT characters, right? The more I read, the more I love this field of literature. While I could easily share with you my ‘best picks’ list, some lovely people have already done a fine job of it here and here so I’m taking the somewhat quirky road instead: LGBT novels that play with the structure of the printed page. 

There may be a technical term for this kind of playfulness (please inform me if there is, the Google doesn’t know how to answer that question), but what I’m talking about is the extra stuff, the literary surprises that are so delightfully extraneous to the printed text that it makes you sit up and pay attention.

The novels I’m thinking of in particular include zine clippings, drawings, script directives, dictionary definitions, texts and commercial breaks to add to and inform the overall narrative in the novel. And, to be frank, often made me laugh out loud.

Intrigued, yet?

Here are 6 LGBT young adult novels—in no particular order—that burst with gay pride and literary innovation!

1. Between You and Me by Marisa Calin, Bloomsbury 2012

Between You and Me by Marisa Calin

Hi, it’s me. Are you asleep?


Can you come over and help me paint my room?

Hmm? It’sthemiddleofthenight.

I know, but purple isn’t peaceful.

The novel is told from the point of view of Me—Phyre—who aspires to be a film star. As such, the novel is written like a film script: dialogue between Me, You and other characters are written as dramatic dialogue; each scene is marked by a break and location description; and details of characters’ actions and feelings provide the backdrop to the dialogue.

While the form is a little jarring at the start, the novel soon finds its rhythm—particularly with the aid of an unrequited lady love triangle, some best friend drama, and a high school theatre class.

2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Scholastic 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray


This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms in a strong tide are two in one. So, all in all, it’s safer to fly that to go to the beach….

This book made me laugh out loud like nobody’s business. The tongue-in-cheek asides of the omniscient narrator and some of the dialogue between the beauty contestants are priceless, but it was really the printed extras that make novel go above and beyond just any story.

By ‘printed extras’, I mean that you’ll be reading along, happily following the narrative when, suddenly, your reading is interrupted by “A WORD FROM YOUR SPONSOR” or a “COMMERCIAL BREAK” or a “MISS TEEN DREAM FUN FACTS PAGE!” all of which add or twist the story in unexpected and cheeky ways. Without giving any more away, if you want a politically aware spoof on Dr. No/Austin Powers featuring a plane crash and teen beauty contestants, buy this book today!

3. What’s Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long, Macmillian Children’s Books 2012

What’s Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long

Image from What's Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long Image from What's Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long

What’s better than an unreliable narrator than an unreliable narrator who can draw? I really, really don’t want to give too much away about the narrative of this book: suffice to say, Jody Barton is telling the story, it is set in North London, and delicious drama ensues. Is that enough to wet your palette?

But, why does it make it onto this list? Well, Jody’s drawings are included throughout the book: sketches made during classes and scenes from London as well as incredible drawings of musicians like Dolly Parton, The Doors, and Van Morrison. Each drawing (and varied font size) adds to the drama of selected moments in the story. Who says big kids can’t have illustrations, too?

4. Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Simon Pulse 1999

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger

Similar to Jody Barton above, Hard Love includes images of “real” material from the character’s life in the novel. In Hard Love, the protagonist John makes his own zines and befriends a self-proclaimed “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian” teen zine artist, Marisol. As a result, excerpts from their respective zines are included in the novel. They not only do the images provide a secondary text (usually in the form of poetry) but their different styles reflect the characters’ personas.

If you’re looking for a book with an out and proud lesbian character, Marisol is your woman. But be warned, she plays a secondary character in this novel and her relationship with John is complicated. If you’re looking for more direct lady action, read the sequel, Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story, also by Ellen Wittlinger.

5. The Lover’s Dictionary: A Love Story in 185 Definitions by David Levithan, Fourth Estate (Harper Collins) 2011

The Lover’s Dictionary: A Love Story in 185 Definitions by David Levithan

corrode, v.
I spent all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.

fallible, adj.
I was hurt. Of course I was hurt. But in a perverse way, I was relieved that you were the one who made the mistake. It made me worry less about myself.

This novel, if you can call it a novel, is designed for word geeks and book nerds. A love story told through definitions? Come on, the word play is bound to be rife! The story takes the reader from “aberrant” to “zenith” with all the complications of love in between. Reading requires an open mind, but it is at the same time very compelling: what will the next definition bring to the story?

If you’re on Twitter, The Lover’s Dictionary has its own twitter account where
it provides daily definitions. And, if you’re new to David Levithan, check out his other work for strong gay and bisexual male characters.

6. Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, Candlewick Press 2011

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

15. Stealth-text from Marcy: Dude, sorry about the gay lunchbox comment. Didn’t mean it.
Me to Marcy: Dude, stop hitting on me.
Marcy to me: I wish I knew how to quit you.

A novel about the four member of the “fiercest, baddest all-girl hip hop crew in the Twin Cities”—Sister Mischief—had to be full of word play. Words and beats are the mode of expression and their rhythms come alive on the page. But it’s not just their songs that boost this novel’s narrative, but the subtext play as well: in this modern era, who has conversations that are only restricted to face-to-face interactions? Reflecting today’s multi-modes of communications, debut novelist Laura Goode includes text messages, Facebook wall posts and notebook scribbles in footnote-like additions to the page. The depth of text extends to the characters, too, as Goode is unafraid to discuss various intersections of race, religion, class and sexuality through her four, fierce female characters: Esme, Rowie, Marcy and Tess.

Thank you, Erica, for such an awesome post! I am so intrigued by some of these books, I'll definitely have to check them out! Be sure to check out Erica's website.


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