Monday, March 21, 2016

New LGBTQ Young Adult Novels

Sexual identity issues have always been a problem for teens, but today's society is more tolerant and students are more comfortable discussing them. Many schools have curricula that include counseling students about being open to diversity in people’s sexual preferences.  Reflective of this tolerance is the growing body of young adult literature that focuses on this issue or includes it in a subplot. This month I would like to recommend three new YA novels that include LGBTQ issues.  We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchison, combines a sci/fi story line with a poignant exploration of a young gay man's struggles.  Unbecoming by Jenny Downham explores the lives of three generations of women, who are each hiding secrets.  The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek by Seth Rudetsky follows Justin to NYC, where he has accepted an internship with a famous actor who is making his musical theater debut.

In We Are the Ants Henry Denton is regularly abducted by aliens who put Earth's fate in his hands.  With his dysfunctional family's indifference, his boyfriend's suicide, and his latest love's denial and abuse, Henry is not sure he really wants to push the red button and save the world from destruction.  Then charismatic new student Diego befirends him and he begins to have a more optimistic view of the future.  Although Henry thinks humans are no more significant than ants, he ultimately reasons we might be worth saving.  This book has been compared to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, having an unreliable narrator who claims to travel to another planet.  However, this book is much more focused on Henry's problems on Earth and his sci/fi exploits seem to be a metaphor for his alienation at home.  A great read for thoughtful teens.

In her new novel Unbecoming Jenny Downham (Before I Die) explores the lives of three generations of women who are hiding secrets. When Katie's grandmother Mary is moved into Katie's family's home by social services, she turns their lives upside down.  Mary, who had Katie's' mother Caroline out of wedlock, left Caroline to live with her sister and husband, heading to London to pursue an acting career.  Caroline understandably harbors resentment, but tries to do the right thing.  Having a strong need for control, she strictly monitors Katie and her disabled brother's lives and now adds Mary's care to the mix. Meanwhile, Katie, who has been uprooted from her home and friends when her dad leaves for another woman, is struggling to fit in at a new school and deal with her growing attraction to girls. Taking on the daytime care of Mary and her brother, Katie finds herself overwhelmed by her mother's animosity, her grandmother's deteriorating memory, her brother's desire to reestablish a relationship with their father, and her attraction to a openly gay waitress.  Alternating between Katie and Mary's third person perspectives, the story slowly reveals what really happened and why Katie is so strongly devoted to helping Mary recover her memories

On a much lighter note The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek focuses on Justin, a self-proclaimed theater geek, who heads to NYC for a winter internship.  He decides to break up with his boyfriend Spencer so that he can live it up in the city.  But when he gets there, he finds himself an errand boy for a famous actor who seems determined to self-destruct in a new musical.  To make matters worse, Spencer finds an NYC internship as well and is dating a hot young actor who is frequently in the tabloids, Justin's Broadway dreams have turned into nightmares, but his self deprecating banter keeps the reader laughing.  I particularly liked this book because Justin's sexuality is just a matter of fact element of the story. He is comfortable in his own skin, as are all the other gay characters involved.  These three books are probably best for more mature readers.

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