LGBTQA YA Books

27 May

Finally got the time to cobble together the list of LGBTQA young adult books I read for my class last semester. I attempted not to be too incredibly spoilery when writing the comments and summaries.

Also: Sometimes I didn’t write the original annotations right away and didn’t have the books anymore, but I tried to include comprehensive trigger warnings. And … sometimes a book has a ton of trigger warnings but is not actually the most crushing thing you’ll ever read (ex. Freak Show).

I tried to keep the summaries non-explicit, but in describing plots and listing trigger warnings with books, there is some potentially triggery material in this post. So I’m including a comprehensive list before the cut.

Trigger warnings for all ten books (both these things and discussions of these things): abandonment, ableism, abuse of medical patients, alcoholism, anti-gay, anti-trans, bullying, child abuse, child molestation, child pornography, cutting, death, discussions of a transgender character’s suicide, disowning, eating disorders, ex-gay rhetoric, forced commitment to a medical facility, gay bashing, a parent’s death, partner pressure to have sex, rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, a trans bashing, unethical drug experiments, and violence.

I am J by Cris Beam

I loved, loved, loved this book. It’s a contemporary novel set in a city, and follows J, a transgender teenage boy. He’s a well-developed character, and while transition is a huge thing in his life, so is school, and romance, and friends and family, and photography, and applying for college. I loved J, and his voice, and the array of other characters he meets. J’s family life is complicated, and his reception upon coming out is not positive, but it’s also not static. (Trying not to spoil too much.) Overall this novel was positive.

Trigger warnings include: bullying, anti-gay attitudes and language, anti-trans attitudes and language, cutting (not J), and eating disorders (not J).

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

This follows Laura, a Cuban teenage tortillera (girl who likes girls) living in Miami (I use tortillera there because the book does, and off the top of my head I can’t remember her ever using lesbian in regards to herself, though she does use gay). She gets kicked out of her Catholic high school and home after a note from her girlfriend is confiscated, and goes to live with her best friend Soledad (“Soli”). Laura’ girlfriend is sent to Puerto Rico by her family, is convinced that being gay is a sin, and marries a man. Laura struggles with being gay and tries to date a guy and make herself straight. Overall this novel was positive.

One thing that was really nice about this book was that there were a lot of queer characters, aside from other gay people. One of Laura’s new good friends, after leaving school, is a boi who explains he’s genderqueer and prefers male pronouns and doesn’t want surgery.

Trigger warnings include anti-gay attitudes, abandonment, disowning, discussion of a transgender character’s suicide, and discussions of child abuse.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

This was a historical fiction novel set in Victorian(?) England, around the time that a medical college for women opened in London. Louisa Cosgrove falls in love with an engaged cousin, kisses her before her wedding, and runs home assuming the reaction will be swift and terrible. Then she ends up being tricked into being forcibly committed to an ‘insane asylum’ where everyone insists she’s Lucy Childs. She starts to fall for an attendant, Eliza, but has the more pressing problem of escaping the asylum and regaining her life. She also has to solve the mystery of who committed her. The book has a positive ending, though the ride there is a little bumpy.

Trigger warnings include: abuse of patients, forced commitment to a medical facility, ableism, misogyny, and discussions with other patients of child molestation, child pornography, and rape (all three were done to a particular patient Louisa meets).

Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

It’s hard for me to explain this book. I was triggered by it several times. It’s not an easy read. It’s really about Karina’s (the main character) and her family’s struggle with an abusive stepfather. Karina’s family is from Haiti and is living in New York, and her mother marries another Haitian man, who is very physically abusive. The family has very little access to information about their new country, including legal and government services, which definitely affects their lives.

After Karina’s sister is beaten so badly their mother kicks “the Daddy” (what they call their stepfather) out of the house, they’re too afraid to testify against him in court, and he attends parenting classes at the community center where Karina volunteers and comes home. Karina falls in love with Rachel, the daughter of the couple that runs the center. And… Karina ends up killing her father at the end of the book (not actually a spoiler; I don’t have the book with me but it’s either stated at the beginning or severely implied). But the book also has a happy ending.

So… very heavy material. But also interesting. I thought the characters were rendered well, and that their situation was treated very realistically. I didn’t feel like it was sensationalized. Karina also has seizures, though she doesn’t have a diagnosis for the cause in the book’s timeline, which plays into things a little bit.

Trigger warnings include: child abuse, mentions of sexual abuse and pedophilia, violence, anti-gay attitudes, alcoholism, and death.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

The novel with the asexual character! It’s set in New Zealand and told through the perspective of a 17-year-old pākehā (New Zealanders of white European, non-Māori ancestry) girl, Ellie. Ellie has magic awakened in her by Mark, and together they must stop a plot to sink the North
Island. They and other people inclined to magic fight the patupaiarehe, which are Māori creatures of magic with whom Mark shares ancestry. The world building is awesome, and at the end Healey gives research notes, points out where she created things on her own, and gives an authentic Māori reading list.

Ellie also has to best friend, Kevin, from being stolen by a patupaiarehe. Kevin is established within the first chapter as asexual! And he’s not anti-social or sociopathic! And it’s not attributed to his magic blood! And it’s not a plot point! (It does come up as an important thing within the plot, but he could’ve just as easily been gay for that plot point to work out.) So basically, it was awesome.

Trigger warnings include violence, death, sexual harassment, and mentions of anti-gay attitudes.

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Okay… I’m going to admit that I didn’t particularly like this book. It’s about a trans teenage girl, Sage. It’s from the perspective of a cis teenage boy, Logan, who falls for Sage after a bad break up and then freaks out when he learns she’s trans. Then he tries to come to terms with it, only he’s not at all good at it, and Sage gets beaten up and threatened with rape by another guy. At the end of the book, her future is unclear.

Personally I didn’t feel like it corrected a lot of talk about “real girls” and “real boys.” I also thought it put a ton of emphasis on anatomy and never presented the idea that some people might not want all the possible surgeries or all the possible hormones. Also, the ending upset me. Basically… if I was in a library and a trans teenage girl said, “I’d like a book about a person like me,” this would be low on the list.

This book has gotten lots of good reviews and won some awards, though, so obviously some people liked it.

Trigger warnings include anti-gay attitudes, anti-trans attitudes, rape threats, and gender-based assault.

Love Drugged by James Klise

This was actually the novel that out of all these books, was the hardest for me to read. There were points I had to put it down and consider returning it because I didn’t know if I could finish it. In it, Jamie, a gay teenager, tries to turn himself straight by dating a girl and stealing a drug her father’s developing that’s supposed to suppress homosexuality in men. But it turns out that the doctor set Jamie up, and blackmails him into continuing the drug despite Jamie’s reservations and some bad side effects. The “use a pill to fix your sexuality” thing is what scared me so much when I was reading it.

Trigger warnings include: unethical drug experiments, partner pressure to have sex, anti-gay attitudes and language, ableism, a small instance of violence, and a threat of murder.

Huntress by Malinda Lo

This is a prequel to Ash, sort of — it’s in the same universe, but set hundreds of years earlier. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella, complete with a fairy dude and a royal huntress, and Ash falls for… the huntress! If you’ve read it, I thought the worldbuilding in Huntress was a lot stronger, richer, and the plot much more tied-together.

Kaede and Taisin, two students at an academy for sages, are drafted to accompany the prince to visit the Xi, a race of fay. Taisin receives a vision of their journey, in which she is also in love with Kaede. But Taisin trains to be a sage, who take a vow of celibacy, and she tries to fight her developing feelings. Kaede knows she prefers women, but her father wants to use her in a political marriage, few of which are made between women. The book follows their journey to combat a half-fay who is using her magic to create a new race of beings. I really enjoyed it, though the ending… I have a complicated relationship with the ending.

Trigger warnings include: some violence, fighting, and killing.

The God Box by Alex Sanchez

I’m lukewarm about this book. If I had been raised more in the Christian church (or possibly if I had not been one of only two children at my church of Sunday School age and had actually received a Sunday School education) I probably would’ve connected with it more. The story follows Paul, who goes through a crisis of faith as he struggles with his sexuality. Manuel, a new openly gay student, challenges his assumptions about being gay and about being Christian. There’s a lot of discussion of the Bible. There’s also an ex-gay character who tries to reassure Paul he can be straight. Eventually Paul admits to himself, his friends, and his family that he is gay, but it isn’t until after Manuel is the victim of a gay bashing.

Trigger warnings include: anti-gay attitudes, gay bashing, ableist language, discussions or mentions of parental death, alcoholism, sexual assault, and child abuse, ex-gay rhetoric.

Freak Show by James St. James

My favorite book from this list. Billy Bloom is a fantastic narrator, high-spirited and dramatic and amazing and loveable. Despite some truly horrible things, she makes the novel extremely upbeat, to the point that when some of the horrible things happened it took me a while to actually understand that they were happening. Note: I use the she set of pronouns for Billy because Billy is a drag queen, and refers to herself as a woman all the time, while only a couple of times calling herself a teenage boy.

Billy starts at a new school and struggles to be accepted, while developing a crush on Flip, the resident football star. When she shows up at school in a lavish costume, attempting to stand up to her bullies, she’s beaten into a coma. Flip visits her while she’s at home, and they become good friends, though Flip rejects her when she admits her crush on him. Then, with her friend Mary Jane, Billy runs an amazing campaign for homecoming queen. The ending was unexpected, but good.

Trigger warnings include anti-trans attitudes, anti-gay attitudes, trans and gay bashing (I’m not sure if ‘trans bashing’ is a phrase like gay bashing is), and attempted rape.

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4 Responses to “LGBTQA YA Books”

  1. maddox May 27, 2011 at 9:19 PM #

    Good summaries and commentary – you’ve made me want to get some of these books which were on my list but I was hesitant on getting. On that note… I should be writing up some reviews… AND I will very soon update my list of books, because I’ve discovered new ones but I want to read some before posting them on the list.

    It would be good if later on you can supply some more commentary on them – I mean you took an entire class on the subject right? Maybe just summarize your notes? And include spoiler warnings or whatever. I’m terrible with literary analysis so it’d be a new perspective for me.

    • ace eccentric May 27, 2011 at 9:57 PM #

      I’m curious which ones you were unsure of. But yay, more reviews! The other day your list actually did come in handy for me — one of my librarian friends is in a position where she can make new purchases, and the person who was previously keeping queer lit out of the collection is gone. So she was looking for titles to fill the gap.

      The class was a survey of lots of multicultural areas, and this project was actually separate one everyone ran on their own and published at the end of the semester. Since everyone was either in the library or education school, they were a project to act as a reference pool for people’s efforts to find good things for their collections in the future. Other people had stuff like death, adoption, grandparents, etc. Someone put together a nice one suggesting new titles to replace old offensive ones with Native American characters. (“Instead of X, try Y.”)

      I request them from the library again sometime and bust out my English major skills, though. I paid a lot for that degree, I should use it, lol.

  2. Lasciel June 8, 2011 at 5:16 PM #

    Some of those sound like they’ll be really interesting to read. And my to-read list swells once more…
    Thanks for writing up these summaries :)

    • ace eccentric June 8, 2011 at 6:17 PM #

      I’m glad they were interesting! :) Hope you enjoy the books.

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