This past weekend, we attended NYC’s BookCon 2019 to snag you all the bonus content with none of the shoulder cramps that accompany wielding 20 paperback novels in a comparably small tote bag. (And none of the $19 convention center lunches.) Looking for queer YA releases? We were too, and we headed to the “Read With Pride” panel, hosted by prolific author and editor David Levithan. There, we heard from three incredible LGBT+ novelists and got a preview of some new and upcoming releases that are turning a new page in YA literature.
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If you’re searching for your perfect pride read, search no further! (Unless, that is, you’ve finished a few perfect LGBT+ titles already, and you’re looking to supplement your list with just a few more.)
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Kacen Callender spent this years’ Lambda Awards competing against himself.
Up for two separate Lambda Awards, Callender (who uses pronouns they / them or he / him) writes about the queer experience from a PoC perspective, illustrating how cultural homophobia influences the lives of his characters. Growing up on St. Thomas, Callender experienced a “cultural homophobia” that influenced his story and his storytelling. His upcoming release is a powerful depiction of prejudice and of love, which too often exist in the same story. At this year’s BookCon, Callender gave audiences a preview of the new novel:
My next book is called King of the Dragonflies, coming February 2020. Twelve-year-old King believes his brother became a dragonfly after he passed away. But before he passed away, King’s brother told him he could no longer be friends with another boy because that boy, Sandy, had come out as gay.
“Black people aren’t gay,” Callender said, recalling the internalized narratives of his childhood in the Virgin Islands, “and if black people are gay, it’s because they know a white person. In the black community, we’re told we’re not allowed to be gay.” His middle grade novel, Hurricane Child, recounts the story of being queer and from the Caribbean, two identities that aren’t mutual exclusive and should hardly demand that clarification. But black people can be gay—and queer stories can be happy.
“Our stories,” Callender said, referring to queer people of color, “have historically been tragedies. We don’t have our own happy endings. My entire life isn’t about how I’m treated by racists and homophobes. My life has joy.”
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I Wish You All the Best is at the forefront of trans YA fiction in its depiction of a non-binary protagonist, an underrepresented demographic in fiction and a seriously misunderstood demographic in society at large. After non-binary teen Ben is kicked out of his house, surviving high school becomes an uncomfortably literal task. In order to protect themself, Ben returns to the closet—and, while it’s the safest place for them, it’s also NOT the place for Nathan Allan, the one reason Ben’s life might just be turning around.
Mason Deaver is a non-binary southern librarian with a penchant for gardening and dropping ‘y’all’ into casual conversation. Their debut novel, according to Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda author Becky Albertalli, “will save lives.”
No one is asking that we scale back the LGBT+ YA renaissance (okay, maybe just a naissance). At least, no one who’s not a relative homophobe or a mustache-twirling censorship supervillain who loves plucking books from the hands of curious children. But some of us are asking for fewer coming out stories and more coming-out-of-my-cage-and-I’ve-been-doing-just-fine-stories: the sweet love story, the heartfelt coming of age. Deaver has combined the two. This isn’t a coming out of the closet story; it’s a “going back into the closet to stay safe, to keep themself alive for however long they can story.” Fortunately, the sweetness and love finds its way. Although we’ve seen some such stories play out with the G in LGBT+, non-binary protagonists are far rarer. “I was very confused as a teenager,” Deaver said of their own nonbinary identity. “There’s no way for me to go back in time and give this book to myself,” they said, “but if I can do that for teenagers today, I will have done my job.”
And does the book have a happy ending? Yes, Deaver would tell you, “queer joy is revolution.”
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Bill Konigsberg is an openly gay man working in sports, a proud owner of some extremely adorable dogs, and the author of five novels. Some believe that gay men and sports ARE mutually exclusive. These usually tend to be the people who think gay men and existence in general are mutually exclusive, making these the sorts of people we try not to take too seriously. That said, they’re out there—and the cultural of toxic masculinity is right there with them.
Toxic masculinity isn’t misandry or man-hating. Instead, it’s the way in which society’s rigid conception of masculinity is harmful to men: believe it or not, asking men to emotionally stunt themselves leaves them emotionally stunted. Konigsberg is working to deconstruct this ideology through art, which is in and of itself basically an emotional fist in the face of the toxically masculine. “I’ve written a coming out story, and it’s completely absent from this novel. What’s special about it is that this is a book about masculinity,” Konigsberg clarified. The Music of What Happens tackles heavy topics as it delves into the memory of its protagonists’ sexual assault. As he reflects on the experience, he realizes what happened wasn’t consensual—and, therefore, wasn’t okay.
The novel is about “the messages about masculinity that we all take in in this very toxic society,” Konigsberg said, “and especially how these messages land on gay boys.” Men aren’t invulnerable—and no one should expect them to be. It’s a good thing that vulnerability has never been the opposite of strength.
It’s June 2019, and these books are groundbreaking. Chances are, they’ll stay that way. But imagine how many other books will be joining them on the shelves in the next few years.
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