February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

LGBTQ Lit: Speaking Out | Focus On

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The right resources can save lives. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning teens are disproportionately at risk for being bullied, becoming homeless, and attempting suicide. Despite an increased representation of LGBTQ teens in the media (especially white, middle-class gay male teens), LGBTQ teens often feel isolated, confused, and without support.

The books and websites recommended here provide a first step toward supporting LGBTQ teens. This list represents a diversity of stories, from Malinda Lo’s lush fantasy Ash to Street Dreams, Tama Wise’s tale of community and coming out among Maori street artists in New Zealand, to Cris Beam’s I Am J, about a mixed-race working-class teen coming to accept himself as transgender.

If you have ever worried about how parents or library administrators would respond to LGBTQ materials in your collection, you know that no resource on this list is without controversy. Telling young adults that it’s okay to be who they are—even if who they are is queer or transgender—is still a radical act. And, it is an act that we as librarians must be prepared to defend. Some resources go into detail about sex, some do not. Some graphically address hardship and violence, some do not. All have a place in the hands of teens who need them. All have the potential to make the LGBTQ teens in your community feel safer, healthier, and less alone.

Middle School Fiction

DAVIS, Tanita S. Happy Families. Knopf. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86966-2; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-96966-9; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98457-0.
Gr 7 Up—Sixteen-year-old twins Ysabel and Justin are shocked and distressed to learn that the person they knew as their father has begun living as a woman, Christine. A year after the revelation and Christine’s subsequent move out of the house, the twins spend a spring break with her, struggling with the ways their family has changed.

HOWE, James. Totally Joe. S & S/Atheneum. 2005. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-689-83957-3; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-689-83958-0; ebook $5.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-4943-5.
Gr 5-8—Twelve-year-old Joe, first introduced in The Misfits (2001), has known he is gay from a young age. Funny and excitable, he tells his from-the-heart story in an “alphabiography” with entries from “A” (his friend Addie) to “Z” (his new friend and maybe more, Zachary).

LEVITHAN, David. Boy Meets Boy. Knopf. 2003. pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83299-4; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-307-48244-0.
Gr 8 Up—In Paul’s town, “There isn’t really a gay scene or a straight scene….They got all mixed up a while back, which [Paul thinks] is for the best.” On a Saturday night bookstore trip with friends, Paul meets the dreamy Noah, and so begins a sweet, gentle, and groundbreaking YA romantic comedy. Audio version available from Full Cast Audio.

LO, Malinda. Ash. Little, Brown, 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04009-9; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-316-04010-5; ebook $7.99. ISBN 978-0-316-07133-8.
Gr 8 Up—In a lush retelling of “Cinderella,” Aisling, better known as Ash, loses her mother and endures the cruelty and neglect of a stepmother and two stepsisters. Aided by a slightly sinister fairy, she finds an unexpected love—the king’s Huntress.

TAKAKO, Shimura. Wandering Son: Volume 1. tr. from Japanese by Matt Thorn. Fantagraphics. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-60699-416-0.
Gr 7 Up—Two transgender tweens—Shuichi, who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, who wants to be a boy—become close in this gentle, realistic, and affirming manga. Even readers unfamiliar with manga or Japanese culture will recognize Shuichi’s desire to be seen as a girl as well as the pressure to stay in short hair and boys’ clothes.

WITTLINGER, Ellen. Parrotfish. S & S. 2007. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-1622-2; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0621-6; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-6681-4.
Gr 7 Up—In one of the first YA novels with a transgender teen protagonist, high school junior Grady, formerly known as Angela, announces to friends, family, and school that he is a boy. Grady’s transition garners push back from teachers and bullies, but he also finds unexpected friends and allies. Optimistic if sometimes oversimplified. Audio version available from Audible.

WOODSON, Jacqueline. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun. Putnam. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25280-8; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-142-41641-9; ebook $7.99. ISBN 978-1-101-15246-1.
Gr 7-11—Quiet, contemplative Melanin is initially furious when his mother reveals that she is involved with not only a woman, but a white woman. This short but affecting first-person narrative chronicles Melanin’s newly strained relationship with his mother and how the young teen makes sense of the life he now lives.

WRIGHT, Bil. Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy. S & S. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-3996-2; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-4004-3; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-2398-5.
Gr 7-10—The titular fat boy is 16-year-old New Yorker Carlos Duarte, a proud makeup artist with flamboyance and ambition. Carlos, who narrates in an excitable if sometimes overconfident voice, is elated with his job at the Macy’s makeup counter. Then a clash with his boss and problems at home threaten to get in the way of Carlos’s dreams.

High School Fiction

BEAM, Cris. I Am J. Little, Brown. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-05361-7; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-316-05360-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-12232-0.
Gr 9 Up—Puerto Rican, Jewish, and transgender, 17-year-old J leaves his family’s New York City apartment. In his journey through seedy motels, support groups, and an LGBT high school, he finds supportive new friends while struggling to maintain relationships with his self-focused former best friend, Melissa, and with the parents who refuse to accept him as a boy.

BREZENOFF, Steve. Brooklyn Burning. Lerner/Carolrhoda Lab. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-7526-5; ebook $12.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-7945-4.
Gr 9 Up—Set in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, this story is as much a celebration of music, the setting, and chosen family as a chronicle of teens in the margins. Over two summers, Scout and Kid—whose genders are, refreshingly, never specified—navigate homelessness, parental rejection, and their feelings for each other.

CART, Michael, ed. How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity. HarperTeen/Bowen Press. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-115498-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-194965-4.
Gr 9 Up—Contributors to this lyrical short-story anthology about LGBTQ young people include Jacqueline Woodson, Francesca Lia Block, David Levithan, and more. A few stories appear in comic format, though most are verse and prose, and the authors address sexuality and gender identity within a diverse array of settings and time periods.

DANFORTH, Emily M. The Miseducation of Cameron Post. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-202056-7; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-210196-9.
Gr 10 Up—Cameron Post’s parents die in a car crash the same day that Cam kisses her best friend, Irene, for the first time. This epic debut for sophisticated readers spans Cameron’s teenage years and explores themes of family, friendship, and survival for a young queer person in a small, rural Montana town.

DOLE, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. HarperCollins. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-084310-6; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-084311-3. o.p.
Gr 9 Up—After being outed at her Miami Catholic school, Cuban-American Laura tries to find a way out of the rejection she receives from family, school, and even her girlfriend. The teen’s highly emotive narrative voice makes the story particularly engaging.

FREYMANN-WEYR, Garret. My Heartbeat. Houghton Harcourt. 2002. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-618-14181-4; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-547-72205-4; ebook $15. ISBN 978-0-547-52858-8.
Gr 8 Up—In a quiet, sophisticated character study, 14-year-old Ellen comes to understand that the relationship between her beloved older brother Link and his best friend, James, is both complicated and fraught with silence. When Ellen starts asking questions, everything among the three changes.

GEORGE, Madeleine. The Difference Between You and Me. Viking. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-670-01128-5; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-1-101-56701-2.
Gr 9 Up—Out-and-proud weirdo Jesse and straitlaced student-council vice president Emily have nothing in common but their weekly secret kissing sessions. When Jesse starts fighting a proposed big box store and Emily gets corporate sponsorship from it for a school dance, the differences between the two come into sharp, often comical relief.

GOODE, Laura. Sister Mischief. Candlewick. 2011. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4640-0; ebook $16.99; ISBN 978-0-7636-5464-1.
Gr 9 Up—A love for hip-hop unites a racially and religiously diverse group of girls, some queer, some straight, in a conservative Minnesota town. Sex, drug use, sexism, homophobia, and a first girl-girl relationship are treated thoughtfully, and Esme—aka MC Ferocious—carries the story with cool, kinetic narration.

GREEN, John & David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Dutton. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42158-0; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-1424-1847-5; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-101-22299-7.
Gr 9 Up—Two boys with the same name, one gay, one straight, meet on a glum night in Chicago. The tie that binds them is campy, big-hearted, larger-than-life Tiny Cooper, a friend of one Will Grayson who becomes romantically involved with the other, all the while producing the Best! Musical! Ever!

MAC, Carrie. Crush. (Orca Soundings Series). Orca. 2006. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-551-43526-8.
Gr 8 Up—This short, accessible novel brings LGBTQ themes to teens reading below grade level. Spending a summer in New York while her commune-dwelling parents celebrate their anniversary in Thailand, 17-year-old Hope is surprised to discover that she has feelings for Nat, the female owner of a bike shop.

PETERS, Julie Anne. Pretend You Love Me. Little, Brown. 2007. pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-316-12741-7; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-316-20564-1.
Gr 9 Up—Isolated from her family after her father’s suicide and her mother’s subsequent silence, teenage butch Mike falls head over heels for Xanadu, a rare new girl in her working-class Kansas town. Xanadu is straight, and Mike’s longing and heartbreak are palpable as Xanadu toys with her emotions.

SANCHEZ, Alex. Rainbow Boys. S & S. 2001. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-689-85770-6; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-439-11534-3.
Gr 9 Up—This first entry in Sanchez’s classic, accessible, high-drama trilogy about Jason, Nelson, and Kyle introduces three very different teenage boys who end up in the same LGBTQ support group. In the hopeful romance plot, the teens struggle with sexuality, gender-related bullying, family rejection, HIV, and more.

ST. JAMES, James. Freak Show. Dutton. 2007. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-525-47799-0; pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-1424-1231-2; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-1-4406-5155-7.
Gr 9 Up—Narrated with bubbling enthusiasm and frequent BURSTS OF ALL CAPS, this is the story of teenage drag queen Billy Bloom. Exuberant, glamorous, and bitingly funny, he is horrified to discover that the teens in his new Florida town are hateful, tragically boring, and violently homophobic…but that’s not going to stop him from being witty, strong, and fabulous.

TAMAKI, Mariko. Skim. illus. by Jillian Tamaki. Groundwood. 2008. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-0-88899-753-1; pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-0-88899-964-1.
Gr 9 Up—In a nuanced and skillfully drawn graphic novel, a queer, mixed-race Wiccan teen develops a new friendship and a fantasy romance as her school reels from a fellow student’s suicide. Set in Toronto in the 1990s, Skim uses expressive, darkly humorous narration and black-and-white line drawings to explore themes of friendship, queer desire, and being an outsider.

WISE, Tama. Street Dreams. Bold Strokes. 2012. pap. $13.95. ISBN 978-1-602-82650-2.
Gr 9 Up—Tyson, a hip-hop-loving Maori teen living in New Zealand, slowly comes out as gay. At the same time, he becomes part of a crew of street artists who provide far more community and support than Auckland’s white-dominated gay scene. Heartfelt, thought-provoking, and hopeful.

YEE, Paul, Money Boy. Groundwood. 2011. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-55498-094-9; ebook $12.95. ISBN 978-1-55498-093-2.
Gr 10 Up—To the disappointment of his former military father, Chinese immigrant Ray Liu struggles in school and spends time playing online video games. When his father discovers that his son has been visiting gay websites, he kicks Ray out of their Toronto home and the teen learns harsh and harrowing lessons about life on the street.


BORNSTEIN, Kate. Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. Seven Stories Press. 2006. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-583-22720-6.
Gr 9 Up—Transgender activist Bornstein wants her readers to do whatever they need to do to stay alive. In a disarmingly warm and candid voice, she shares stories from her own life, addresses bullying with particular attention to gender, and lists 101 things teens can do instead of suicide, from “take a walk in the woods” to “rant, rave, bitch, and moan.”

BORNSTEIN, Kate & S. Bear Bergman, eds. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. Seal Press, 2010. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-580-05308-2.
Adult/High School—Loosely inspired by Bornstein’s groundbreaking Gender Outlaw (Routledge, 1994), this anthology features authors of various ages, racial, and cultural backgrounds, identities, and experiences of gender. Although the book was published for adults and discusses sex, bodies, and suffering frankly, few resources directly aimed at teens match this one’s capacious and complicated understanding of gender and transgender experiences.

HUEGEL, Kelly. GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens. 2nd ed. Free Spirit. 2011. pap. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-57542-363-0; ebook $15.99. ISBN 978-1-57542-704-1.
Gr 7 Up—Arranged into 11 chapters and peppered with helpful sidebars and quotes from LGBTQ teens, this substantive survival guide addresses topics from dating to religion to school to coming out. The discussion of sex is particularly helpful, with an accessible rundown of safer sex facts and valuable tools for responding to a partner’s pressure.

LOWREY, Sassafras, ed. Kicked Out. Homofactus Press. 2010. pap. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-978-59736-8.
Gr 9 Up—Queer and transgender young people are disproportionately homeless in the U.S. Formerly homeless queer writer Lowrey has compiled a raw, vital anthology of memoirs, essays, interviews, and photographs by and of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth. The book aims both to build a movement and to show homeless LGBTQ young people that they are not alone.

MOON, Sarah & James Lecesne, eds. The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-39932-6.
Gr 9 Up—In this anthology, more than 50 queer writers contribute short letters—some in comic form, most in prose—to their younger selves. The well-known and lesser-known writers, including Gregory MacGuire, Jasika Nicole, and Malinda Lo, provide readers with hope for the future and compassion for the present.

On the Web

It Gets Better Project. www.itgetsbetter.org.
Dan Savage and Terry Miller. Seattle, Washington. (Accessed 4/21/12)

One of the most well-known resources for LGBTQ teens, the It Gets Better Project was created in response to a highly publicized series of LGBTQ teen suicides in 2010. The site compiles a diverse array of videos in which LGBTQ adults and others who care about LGBTQ teens convey messages of hope and comfort.Make It Better Project. www.makeitbetterproject.org. GSA Network. California. (Accessed 4/21/12)

The It Gets Better Project has been criticized for promising LGBTQ teens a future without empowering them to address their present circumstances. In contrast, the Make It Better Project, created by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (www.gsanetwork.org), provides a platform and resources for teens to combat bullying and homophobia.Oasis Journals. oasisjournals.com. Oasis Magazine. (Accessed 4/21/12)

Aimed at LGBTQ youth, this “writing community” contains a vibrant discussion forum as well as space for users to journal publicly using Internet handles rather than the names they use offline. A boon for LGBTQ youth who feel isolated, as many do.

Scarleteen. www.scarleteen.com.
Heather Corrina. Seattle, Washington. (Accessed 4/21/12)

Though not specifically aimed at an LGBTQ audience, this comprehensive sex education site for teens includes a wealth of information on sex and bodies that LGBTQ teens can use. Given the dearth of sex and health information for queer and transgender teens, this site is a particularly valuable resource.

Trans Youth Support Network. www.transyouthsupportnetwork.org.
Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN). Minnesota. (Accessed 4/21/12)

This website is notable for the extensive resources page. Visitors to the site can access a library booklist, transgender health-related zines, information on safer bathrooms, and much more.

Author Information
Megan Honig is a former Young Adult Collections Specialist, New York Public Library.
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