If you haven’t noticed, I’m really passionate about diversity in YA. I’ve talked about the need for other body types and why sex negativity is a big problem. There’s so much more to talk about – we need protagonists of color, disabled protagonists, characters all across the spectrums of sex, gender, sexual preference, and level of sexual activity (wouldn’t some asexuals be awesome?).
Today, for a very special episode of Tuesday Reads, I’m doing a double feature of YA books with lesbian protagonists. They’re both the kind of stories about gay characters that I’d love to see more of. These stories are not entirely about the protagonist being gay. It’s a big part of them, sure, but it’s not the central story. I think these books do a great job of normalizing gay characters.
Let’s kick things off with Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow. It’s about Colby, a high school girl that basically everyone knows is a lesbian and while she’s had some bullying, it hasn’t been bad. The thing is, she’s never told her dad, and that can be kind of stressful. Oh, and her not-quite-girlfriend dumped her…for a guy. And now there’s a really cute girl flirting with her, and basically Colby is just freaking out.
The last thing I needed was for my heart to get broken again by another girl who’d dump me the second the right guy made his move. I’d rather stick to my lonely-girl-and-her-dog existence.
What I truly love about this book in terms of YA diversity is that it’s not about her sexuality. It’s not about her questioning that she’s into girls. When we meet her, she already knows this about herself. She hasn’t fully come out, but she’s not really ashamed of it or anything, just scared. The story isn’t about a lesbian. It’s a story with a lesbian main character. It’s about her being herself and discovering her own strengths and working out her problems in ways largely unrelated to the coming-out aspect of the book, and that’s awesome.
Starting From Here is funny and painfully real, and will make you feel that high school angst in the way good YA often does – whether or not your high school experience involved coming out of the closet.
And even though that other girl was the girl I’d been for years, being her now was like acting a part in a play.
Actually, I thought, it was always like acting a part in a play. I just didn’t realize it.
Garnet is sent off to spend the summer of 1926 with relatives and is expected to return and make a good marriage and be a good girl. As like most female protagonists in similar books, Garnet’s not entirely excited about her prospects – so she’s going to make the most of her summer. She gets a job as a shop girl and starts an illicit friendship with a flapper from the local dance hall named Isabella. In fact, she never identifies as such. We only know that she loves Isabella and that’s enough. The story is far more coming-of-age than it is coming out. It’s about Garnet and Isabella having a relationship and having young love – not about them being lesbians.
I admit that I initially bought Silhouette of a Sparrow for its intriguing title and lovely cover. I was won over entirely by the depth of the characters and the beauty of the prose.
I should clarify: I love books that are about the trials and tribulations of coming out as LGBT. It’s something that can be, at best, stressful, and at worst…well, life-threatening. We need books that tell these stories. Right now I’m just really on the look out for books that go the next step and normalize the sexualities. Books with LGBT characters, not about their LGBT…ness.
For more books that have something other than the usual white cisgender straight characters, check out Diversity in YA. Seriously. It’s a great source for dialogue about diversity and for books to add to your “to-read” list.