Introducing the 2010 Young Adult LGBTQ Book Club
June is Pride Month, but it is really entirely a coincidence that Great Perhaps is choosing this time to kick off its first ever Book Club, and that the theme of said Book Club is LGBTQ books for YA readers.
I created this website for two reasons. One of them is probably self-evident; I love reading, I love finding great books for my students, and I love sharing what I find with others online. The second is that I am currently taking a graduate course in adolescent literature, and chose this medium as a hub for my final project. Some people make great PowerPoints, and some people do performance poetry; I do stuff with Teh Intranetz.
For said final project, we were asked to choose some element of adolescent literature to research (by reading several YA books that applied, as well as other resources) and present our findings for the rest of the class. I chose to explore literature with LGBTQ themes so that I’d have a ready supply of books on hand to offer my students who struggled with that particularly difficult aspect of growing up.
I’m a straight, married woman without any immediate LGBTQ family members. So why is this subject important to me? I could name any number of friends and colleagues, but it’s simpler to just repeat: I’m a teacher. Every year, 150 or more students walk into my room and share a part of their lives with me; every year, my heart takes on partial responsibility for 150+ young souls. Even the most conservative of statistics put about a dozen LGBTQ students in my classroom each year. You don’t have to be a teacher to know that any high school or middle school is a hostile environment for a gay teen; our community is deeply socially conservative, inevitably raising the toxicity for any student who defies the “norm”.
I try really hard to make my classroom a safe place for all my students, but I’m a novice teacher and I haven’t got it figured out yet. I have made a firm stand against the derogatory use of words like “gay” and “fag”, but the primary result of that has been my raised blood pressure. I wanted all of my students to understand that I am an ally, but I kept feeling awkward – like I was somehow making it worse. I didn’t know whether I ought to be drawing attention to gay authors and issues (some advocacy groups encourage teachers to celebrate and highlight gay authors, much like we do black authors or female authors) or taking the “it’s no big deal, people are people” stance that seemed more personally appropriate (and more in line with what other advocacy groups recommended).
One of my favorite things about my classroom is my extensive classroom library. I feel like a library – whether in an individual classroom, or a more public collection – is such a valuable resource to teens, if they only know it. The questions they dare not ask out loud can be answered by privately skimming a book. The characters they can’t meet in class or on TV are waiting to befriend them on the shelves. I found myself asking, What books do I have for my LGBTQ students? Then, as I considered adding to that collection, Will they dare pick them up and read them? Or will they be scared that someone will see what they’re reading and harass them?
In the end, I decided that the first question was more important than the second. I can’t control what they will and won’t read – but I can control whether or not they have that option in the first place. If I go out of my way to keep the latest Nicholas Sparks and Clive Cussler books on the shelves for the kids who devour them, I can and should go out of my way to make sure there are some offerings for students with other interests, too. After all, I might be the only person who does – and it’s important. If you don’t believe me, ask 15-year-old blogger Brent, who finally found a book with gay characters after searching the local bookstore:
I found one that seemed like what we were looking for. What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson. I read it. Then Destinie read it. We talked about. And cried about it. People really write about this stuff? I thought. It felt… great. Imagine that you are an alien on your own planet. And imagine you find out that there are more aliens, just like you, on your planet. And imagine what it would be like–to know that someone knows what it’s like. What you’re going through….When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic…..When I asked [the librarian] about it, she replied, “This is a school library. If you are looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a book store.”
I needed to read a minimum of four YA books on my theme, and quickly gathered far more than that that I wanted to review. At about the same time, I realized that it was Pride Month and that other websites were marking the occasion through book club-type activities. Everything fell into place, and here we are!
I plan to continue the 2010 Young Adult LGBTQ Book Club throughout the remainder of June and, because there’s a lot to read and I got off to a late start, through at least the first half of July. I am intentionally not labeling it with a particular month, though, because I hope some of the reviews posted here will inspire you to join the book club – even if you start in December! If you read any of these books, or want to follow along as a full-fledged Book Club “member”, feel free to download the web button below and add it to your own website.
I hope you’ll link the button back to Great Perhaps and share what we’re doing with others – I strongly believe that this is an important area of professional development for anyone who works with teens!