There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way in terms of adult gay and lesbian literature, and there’s been a huge boost in quality and quantity of fiction and nonfiction with LGBT themes for kids and young adults. Whether or not your child identifies as LGBT is immaterial, as many of the general themes and feelings (confusion, isolation, frustration) are common to just about every teen I’ve ever known — not to mention plenty of the adults.
When it debuted in 1995, Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence by Marion Dane Bauer was the first collection of young adult fiction completely focused on gay and lesbian ideas and themes. The selections are written by children’s and young adult’s fiction authors (including Bruce Coville, Lois Lowry, and C.S. Alder), and discuss things like coming out and homophobia. Most of the kids are white, suburban, and from fairly well-off families, but there is a bit more diversity than what you usually get with young adult fiction.
Recommended ages: This is definitely suitable for the twelve and up crowd, and possibly quite a few precocious eight to eleven year olds.
Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love and Parrotfish are tremendous pieces of fiction. Hard Love is about the relationship between two teens — one who is straight and interested, and the other who is a lesbian and not. The book is told from the point of view of the male, who is coming to terms with numerous factors in his life (abandonment by his father, physical and emotional distance from his mother) and his feelings for a female who is romantically unavailable to him. Everything you might have felt as a teen (alienation, motivation, creativity, depression, independence, co-dependence, etc.) is present here. Parrotfish is the author’s second work, and this time she focuses on the life of Grady, who was known as Angela before coming out as transgendered at Thanksgiving.
Recommended ages: Hard Love – 11 & up; Parrotfish – 14 & up.
Freak Show by James St. James (if you were a club kid in the 80s/90s, you might be familiar with his first book, Disco Bloodbath, which has since been renamed Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland) is about a teen drag queen named Billy. He’s recently moved into an ultra-conservative community on Florida, and is challenging the status quo from day one. The plot — the school outcast wants to win a crown at Homecoming — is admittedly all too familiar, as it’s been hashed out in many a teen dramedy. The obvious twist that makes the book different is that Billy is a male who wants to be crowned Queen. The narration of the book (through Billy’s voice) is terrific, and many teens will identify with Billy’s need to be accepted, whether or not they also identify with his clothing choices.
Recommended ages: 14 & up.
Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws is by transsexual author Kate Bornstein. The book should probably be on every required reading list in every high school, as it’s one of the most unique teenage suicide prevention manuals that I’ve come across. As the title suggests, there are 101 alternatives to suicide inside, and only one rule: “Don’t be mean.” The alternatives cover both the mild (moisturize) to the maybe-not-so-desirable-for parents (get laid). Bornstein writes a blog that serves as a kind of accompaniment for the book, Kate Bornstein’s Blog for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.
Recommended ages: I’d say 12 & up, but use your judgement. Some of the alternatives might not be the best for younger kids, but bullying happens at all ages.
Psst…if you’re looking for something for the five-and-under set, Barbara Lynn Edmonds’s When Grown-Ups Fall in Love is a great place to start. It’s never too early!
What suggestions do you guys have?