Ten of the Best: Teenage novels with gay or lesbian characters
‘While the internet now provides questioning teens with information about gay sexuality, fiction still deals best with the emotional issues involved – as well as explaining these to all teen readers,’ says Ju Gosling. Here she chooses the ten teen titles which are her personal favourites.
Joanna Kendrick, Barrington Stoke, 64pp, 978 1 8429 9764 2, £5.99 pbk
Out is an illustrated quick read, told from the perspective of Natalie who falls in love with best friend Will just as he decides to come out at school. Natalie never does tell Will how she feels, but supports him when she realizes he is determined to be open and honest whatever the personal cost. A simple story, well told, and well illustrated by Julia Page.
Boy Meets Boy
David Levithan, HarperCollins, 224pp, 978-0007191376, hbk. OP but some copies available from Amazon UK. Pbk available from Amazon US.
Coming out is easy in Boy Meets Boy, because the gay and straight scenes in Paul’s exceptionally tolerant US home town ‘got all mixed up’. Paul has known he is gay since his kindergarten teacher wrote it on his report, and has been out ever since. When new boy Noah arrives, though, it becomes clear that homophobia isn’t the only thing that prevents the path of true love from running smoothly. Deservedly award-winning.
Damian Kelleher, Piccadilly, 192pp, 978 1 8481 2003 7, £6.99 pbk
Life, Interrupted is another hard-hitting book. Brothers Luke and Jesse live with their mother and rarely see their father, who is living in Scotland with a second family. After their mother develops terminal cancer and dies, they form a new family when their Uncle Stu moves in. That he turns out to be gay is rightly seen as being unimportant; love is what counts. Highly moving and extremely readable.
50 Cent, Quercus, 320pp, 978 1 7808 7330 5, £6.99 pbk
The fact that a parent’s coming-out may not be so easily accepted is dealt with in Playground. Butterball is a self-described fat Black kid, who is struggling to deal with his parents’ separation and his move from New York to the suburbs. When the story opens, he has just been suspended from school and ordered to undergo therapy for assaulting a fellow pupil. It takes the whole of the book for Butterball to realize that his former friend was right to suggest that his mother is gay, and that her ‘friend’ is actually her partner. Beautifully written and paced.
Ed. Keith Gray, Andersen, 256pp, 978 1 8493 9099 6, £5.99 pbk
Losing It (virginity, that is) includes a short story by Patrick Ness, ‘Different for Boys’. Ant is secretly having sex with Charlie, who in public derides former friend Jack for being gay. Jack unwittingly outs Ant in school, so Charlie beats Ant up for supposedly making a pass at him. Ant and Jack reconcile, but they take Charlie at his word that he is ‘just practising’ for women. Ant concludes that it is ‘different for boys’, and he can decide for himself when he ceases to feel like a virgin. Written with a strong boy’s voice.
Lili Wilkinson, Allen & Unwin, 264pp, 978 1 7417 5834 4, £6.99 pbk
Lili Wilkinson stresses that sexual orientation may not be fixed in Pink. Ava’s liberal academic parents have already celebrated her coming out, but she transfers schools to escape her girlfriend Chloe and to find out who she really is, a truth she suspects is not so clear-cut. The story explores issues around peer pressure and parental pressure in a touching and often humorous way, and teaches that everyone is happier when they can be accepted as themselves. Australians seem to be more comfortable writing teen fiction with lesbian themes, and this comfort level transfers itself to the reader.
About a Girl
Joanne Horniman, Allen & Unwin, 228pp, 978 1 7423 7144 3, £6.99 pbk
About a Girl similarly highlights the ambiguities of sexual orientation as well as being a coming-out story. Anna has dropped out of college with depression and moved to Lismore to work in a bookshop. She soon meets and falls in love with Flynn, a waitress and part-time singer, but their relationship is short-lived. Flynn returns to her boyfriend, now back from a year abroad, and Anna returns to her family in Canberra and university, finally able to come out to her mother. A satisfying read that deals with some complex issues.
Geraldine Meade, Little Island, 288pp, 978 1 9081 9501 2, £7.99 pbk
Set in Ireland, Flick tackles a subject that is increasingly being aired in LesBi women’s circles, namely the self-destructive behaviours that can result from struggling to come out in a world that is less than welcoming, which if not tackled can last a lifetime. 16-year-old Flick’s drinking exposes her to unwanted sexual attentions and even rape before she is able to come out to her friends and family, and her lack of comfort with her sexual orientation then almost loses Flick her girlfriend, Joey. Fortunately, with counselling and family support, everything changes by Flick’s 17th birthday.
Keeping You a Secret
Julie Anne Peters, Little Brown, 256pp, 978 0 3160 0985 0, £4.99 pbk
Family support is the last thing that student council president Holland receives in Keeping You a Secret. Transfer student Cece is out and proud, and soon makes Holland realize that her feelings for boyfriend Seth are not ‘the real thing’. Holland begins a relationship with Cece, but it is Cece who urges her to keep their relationship a secret, even after Seth outs Holland to her family and they reject her. Holland is able to live independently and find a college course that really suits her with support from the LGBT community, though, and finally understands that Cece is simply scared of losing her.
10 Always Mackenzie
Kate Constable, Allen & Unwin, 192pp, 978 1 7423 7766 7, £5.99 pbk
Last but by no means least, Always Mackenzie is another Australian coming-out story. Jem and Mackenzie are in different friendship groups, but are thrown together when their school spends a term in a bush camp. Jem fails to grasp the fact that Mackenzie is attracted to her, and so once they return to Melbourne their friendship breaks down again in a series of misunderstandings. When Mackenzie is finally able to come out to her, though, Jem begins to consider that she may also be attracted to girls. Sensitively written and very readable.
Dr Ju Gosling is director of Bettany Press, a small press specializing in books about 20th century girls’ fiction (www.bettanypress.co.uk). She is also a Co-Chair of Regard, the national LGBT disabled people’s organization.