Quite obviously, given the amount of time I spend talking about John Green here, this is not a blog on politics. But it is a blog about fiction for teens, and here's where culture and politics are mixing in a way that you hope can only mean better things for the next generation of adults.
A favourite author of mine, David Leviathan, has a new book coming out in August (hurry up, August!) called Two Boys Kissing. The cover looks something like this:
Two Boys Kissing is the story of Harry and Craig, two 17 year-old boys determined to break the Guinness World Record for the longest ever kiss. All 32 hours of it, to be more precise. And it's well timed, too, being published a decade after Boy Meets Boy, David's debut.
Many YA writers, when asked about the issues, sex and violence they put in their books, argue that books are an important and safe way for children and teens to explore the world. I completely agree, but I also think that books are an important reflection of the world, and that when books fail to represent significant parts of our culture, children and teens are being failed. Of course, that doesn't only go for sexual inequality - it goes for all sorts of diversity issues, and the growing representation of LGBTQ teens is only one way in which diversity in books is increasing.
A while back, I read a great article on Atlantic Wire, written by Jen Doll. In it, Levithan says:
"Every now and then there's a moment when people are grumbling and saying publishers are still scared [of books featuring LGBT characters], but from my point of view that’s 100 percent false. I have not had any experience of people not wanting to share these voices and stories. Any perceived resistance is from people who aren't plugged in, whose ideas of what the publishing marketplace is are 10 or 20 years out of date."
I feel there's a bit of a dichotomy here. Whilst I do read quite a number of American books featuring LGBTQ characters, I would say that although the numbers of similar characters in UK books are increasing, they aren't increasing very much.
One memorable British book I read recently, though, is Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry, in which the main character's brother is gay, and suffering at the hands of other (school)boys for it. It's a beautifully written book, and the culmination of that particular storyline is in equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful. I read another, simply stunning book a few weeks ago that I'm dying to talk more about here but, alas, it would give the entire plot away. (Sorry. But not really. It was an awesome read.)
Doing a bit of research for this post, I found a piece on the Guardian website from a couple of years ago. It's reporting some news from the States - two authors who were advised to 'straighten out' their gay main characters in order to be published. I can't imagine that this is something that happens very often these days, but the article was of particular interest, because of a mention of Malorie Blackman in the same article:
"Although Blackman experienced only positive reactions from her agent, publisher and readers at her inclusion of a gay younger brother in her novel Boys Don't Cry, she said that, when she was starting out as a writer 20 years ago, she was asked to make a black character white."She goes on to say (very succinctly!):
"Are we still not over this nonsense?"
Now, I haven't written this blog because of personal experience. This is not a case of somebody getting up on a soap box to shout about something because they feel it is unfair to them personally. But nevertheless this is something that I feel passionate about.
I look at people very dear to my heart, and I think: when you grow up, I want you to be able to choose. I want you to feel free to love whomever you love, and to be able to celebrate that in the same way as anybody else.
And quite honestly, the more diversity of all kinds is represented in literature for teens, the better off we'll all be.