18 July 2011

GLBT Spotlight

So, okay, I'm possibly the straightest chick to ever walk the earth, but I'd also like to believe I'm pretty open-minded and accepting of whatever the hell anybody else wants to get up to as long as it's not hurting anyone. As a long-time YA addict, I've been really happy to see a greater variety of GLBT characters show up in the last few years, as for teens who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality (or even are perfectly fine with it) it can be really helpful to read about "people like me". I mean, hell, I like books about nerds... ;-) (I'm departing from my usual "only list stuff I've read" rule in a few cases in order to add in recommendations from friends who do belong to the GLBT community.) So without further ado, a list today of books both YA and adult which I think are standouts either as a whole or for specific characters. Starting with:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green & David Levithan

Tiny Cooper FTW!!!! Whether he is the biggest guy who is also very gay, or the gayest guy who is also very big, you Must. Love. Tiny. Despite the title, which refers to two guys with the same name (one gay, one straight, BTW, just like the authors), it's Tiny Cooper and his connection to both of them which holds this book together and lifts it into the realm of completely awesome. I remember reading it while walking home from a doctor's appointment last summer and totally bumping into and stumbling over things as I just had to find out how it ended and I certainly wasn't going to wait till I got home. It's a coming-of-age story, it's a character study, and it ends with a giant musical production - what's not to love?

Eon & Eona - Alison Goodman

Yes I KNOW I keep bringing these up, so what? They're that good. They also have all manner of characters who bend or break traditional gender roles, including the title character, who starts out as a "boy" called Eon, only to reveal she's actually a girl named Eona; her transgender courtesan Lady Dela (whose father calls her his "daughter-son", which I found sweet); and the eunuch who loves her. The main focus of the plot is not on any of this - and that's one of the things that makes these characters so memorable. Okay, okay, okay, AND there are dragons. Happy now?

Anything by Libba Bray

That's not a title, obviously, I really do mean any of her books. Probably the most recent (Beauty Queens) especially, but you've got everything from girls at a Victorian boarding school who are definitely more than just friends (though society and its mores won't allow it), to a death-obsessed video gaming dwarf (yep, you read that right) who finds his true love in a most unexpected place, to the crash-landed beauty pageant contestants (and reality show pirates) who fall into any category you feel like naming (but who needs categories, really?). I've met her twice now and she is super-cool and friendly and writes stuff that makes you laugh so hard you just might hurt yourself, AND manages to touch on more than a few serious issues while she does so. The woman is a genius. Go get some.

quartets - Tamora Pierce

While not necessarily immediately apparent, the mentor mages Lark and Rosethorn (who guide the four main characters through their own magics) are a lesbian couple; in a later book in the series, Daja (one of the aforementioned four) discovers that she would rather be with women than men as well. What I like about these ladies is that it's never an issue, nobody points it out or gives a baboon's left butt cheek, it's just the way it is (which parallels the way I learned about it myself as a kid - by the time I first heard the word "lesbian", I knew at least 6 and wasn't the slightest bit bothered by it). Plus, as noted in other entries in this list, it's not the main plot, it's just another facet of the character - and isn't that the way it works in real life?

Hero - Roger Moore

Imagine you're a superhero. Awesome! Now imagine your dad is a failed one. Not so awesome. Oh, and just to make things even more complicated, you're gay. Welcome to Thom's life. There are a whole lot of classic superhero tropes running through here (they're a League! Imagine that...), as well as the absent mother, the group of misfits who must band together, and, erm, basketball. Moore was probably better known as one of the producers for the series of Narnia films; he died in slightly mysterious circumstances in February of this year. Moore was openly gay himself and (at least according to his Wikipedia article) was working on a sequel as far back as 2009. Will it ever appear? We shall see...

Luna - Julie Anne Peters

Told through the eyes of a sympathetic younger sister, this book chronicles the becoming of Luna - who, if you go by her birth certificate, is a boy named Liam. Regan is the only one aware of her brother's secret, and she helps him - or, really, her - by lending her own clothes and purchasing items (like, say, underwear) that Liam/Luna can't easily procure for her nighttime transformations. When Liam decides he's ready to transition into living as Luna full-time, however, Regan begins to fear the repercussions into her own life - and her own crush as well. I've known a few girls who were born into the wrong bodies, and they're more feminine than I'll ever be. Stronger, too, 'cause no matter how supportive your inner circle is, it has got to be terrifically hard to tell people that you're not who they thought you were and then take the steps toward becoming who you really are.

Annie on My Mind - Nancy Garden

As far as I can tell, this is one of the earlier books to depict a relationship between two high school girls; they meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and start out thinking they're just friends but discover there's much more to it than that. Long before Constance and her cancelled prom, there were Annie and Liza, trying to overcome stereotypes and opposition. It's been nearly 30 years since this was published, so many things seem dated, and information that's readily available to teens now is a complete mystery to our two here, but it is, above all, a love story, and if there's no sassy dialogue or up-to-the-minute pop culture references, well, so what?

Nightrunners - Lynn Flewelling

This is one of my favourite fantasy series (I admit it, it's at least a little bit because Flewelling is a fellow otter-fan), with lots of spying and stealing and intrigue and faie and humans and, oh yeah, the two main characters are (at least after the first book) a gay couple. Seregil and Alec are great fun to hang out with; I recently recommended this series to a friend of mine and he and his boyfriend have been devouring it, along with giving me running commentary about all the homoerotic symbolism that goes completely over my oblivious straight head. There's also a spinoff trilogy (known as the Tamir Triad) that takes place in the deep history of the Nightrunners series where the gender-bending is pretty intense - when a prophecy threatens a usurping king, a family hires a hedgewitch to do some pretty ghastly things to their newborn twins - like, you know, killing the boy and implanting a bit of him into the girl so she looks like she's a boy... Yeah. Twisted. Great read though.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeannette Winterson

This quasi-autobiographical novel won the Whitbread Prize, and explores issues of faith and sexuality and, as frequently (usually?) happens, the conflict between them. We're reaching back into the 80s again (1985 this time), and for the first time in this list heading over to England (I know, where's my usual Anglophile streak today, right? No worries, more to come.). Jeanette (our protagonist as well as the author) grows up in a loving but heavily Christian home, and when as a teenager she falls in love with another girl - I was going to say "all hell breaks loose", but let's give the religious metaphors a rest. A well-written exploration of finding one's place even when it goes against everything you've ever been taught.

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

Welcome to 1890s London, where under the exceedingly prim and proper Victorian exterior lived a whole lot of people who couldn't care less about society or propriety. Into this we throw one Nan Astley, who was raised among the oysters, becomes fascinated by a male impersonator (by name one Kitty Butler), and becomes her friend, her dresser, her music-hall partner, and more... and then that all comes crashing down and she's in London doing everything from pretending to be a rent boy (well, pretending about the "boy" part, anyway) to becoming a kept woman for another woman. There was a 3-part BBC adaptation (memorably and hilariously spoofed by French & Saunders) as well.

Lord John series - Diana Gabaldon

Gabaldon is best known for her Outlander series, seven (so far) massive novels which chronicle the lives of Claire and Jamie Fraser. (That is a ridiculous oversimplification, but whatever.) Along the way, she spun off the character of Lord John Grey into his own novels (which she originally thought were short stories, only to be told that that's how long a NORMAL novel is...) - and, as you may have already guessed due to today's topic, Lord John is gay. What sets these apart from the rest of the list is the time period - the late 18th century, when such goings-on were generally not tolerated by polite society and nobody gave a damn if you preferred the company of your own sex, you were going to get married and produce HEIRS and that was that. Yikes.

Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson

How could I leave out Lisbeth Salander? I couldn't, really, so here she is. Once again, her sexuality is far from the main issue of the plot (no matter how much the press wanted to harp on the "lesbian Satanist cult" nonsense), but simply another facet to the character. She is who she is, she will sleep with whoever she wants, and doesn't give a damn if they're male or female. Very few other people may be comfortable around her, but she is perfectly fine with who she is and if you're not then you can go to hell. The term BAMF could have been invented just for her.


And now for the public service announcement portion of today's post. Namely, the Burrowers want a summer vacation! Oh, don't worry, you'll get about a post a week, possibly more if someone feels like writing an extra one, possibly not if we're being lazy. We will resume our regular 5-a-week schedule come autumn, and in the meantime feel free to visit any of our (well, their, since I don't have one) individual blogs (links in the sidebar).


Anonymous said...

Great list, will take note of the couple I have not read. Thanks!

One of mine - okay I'm into the graphic novel at the moment, this one is a must read — Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. A memoir in a graphic narrative style, explores the author's life as a child living in a funeral home with her family and particularly her uncloseted (is this a word?) father. Dealing mainly with her father's sexuality and death and how it affected her life and decisions made, this is a brilliant piece of literature, worthy of bookshelf status.

CA Heaven said...

Being open minded is a good attitude >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, nice list, Leanne. Unlike you, I grew up in a small secluded town and sexual orientation seemed a BIG DEAL, so I love seeing characters in literature that show people are people and help readers get comfortable if they are straight, and are a 'like me' if people are gay.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I'm going to check out Lynn Fleweling's books.

erica and christy said...

Interesting list, thanks. I've only read the Steig Larsson books (and didn't really like them, although that had nothing to do with Lisbeth's sexual orientation) and I'll have to check more of these out. Love the Luna cover!

Unknown said...

Hey Leanne,

I did read the Larsson books and I have read Lord John Grey. I absolutely love Diana Gabaldon's Highlander series! Excellent list. Will check out some of these for my North Carolina trip.

ViolaNut said...

HildaRose - glad I found a few new ones for you!

CaH - yeah, I try. As long as my brain doesn't fall out. ;-)

Tami - yeah, one of the things I like best about the ones on this list I HAVE read is that they're not beat-you-over-the-head about it. Granted, I don't like STRAIGHT romance novels, either, sooooo... ;-)

Michael - yes, yes, do! They are awesome and deserve a wider readership!

Erica - it's pretty, huh? My roomie is M-to-F trans, but with an older sister - who is actually pretty happy to have someone to do the handmedown thing with now. :-)

Chary - I bet some of these could come in handy for you to know, since you're dealing with teenagers all the time. Never know when someone might need the right book at the right time...

alyssa said...

I love Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I'm reading Beauty Queens right now. So awesome. :)