Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria described below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! Commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally in reprint, as YA (Vanyel was never published as YA), 2) It must contain at least one major LGBTQ character who is clearly identified as such within the book itself. (Dumbledore is not; neither are Tom and Carl), 3) Major is defined as having a POV and/or a storyline of their own and/or lots of page-time. 4) In most cases, it must be published by a mainstream or small-press publisher in the USA.

Books in which the protagonist is LGBTQ are marked with a star.

I made this list because less than one percent of all YA novels published in the USA within the last ten years have any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting ones. Of those few novels, most are mainstream literature, not sf or fantasy.

I have not specified the authors' sexual orientation or gender identity. This list is about characters rather than authors, and I don't know how all the authors identify.

Check out the list! )
An unusual YA dark fantasy with tons of narrative drive and a lesbian romance. The narrator wakes up in the woods, amnesiac and covered in blood, with a frantic girl trying to drag her to safety. They barely manage to evade an attack by creepy flying skeletons, and make it back to the dubious shelter of Mad House… by walking through the walls, which the skeletons cannot penetrate.

The narrator, Lottie, is in Twixt, a bizarre world in which “Sleepers” like herself eke out a weird existence, unable to get beyond the forest that borders the city, selling snips of their hair to get a drug which restores their memories.

I guessed the general outlines of the main mysteries – what is Twixt? Who is Lottie? -- but not the specific twists, or the twist-within-a-twist. It’s not exactly a new idea, but many of the details felt fresh, and the book was almost impossible to put down once I’d started it.

Twixt, its inhabitants, and the romance between Lottie and her rescuer Charlie feel a little underdeveloped – vivid but in two dimensions – in a way which is partially but not entirely due to the nature of the characters and the world.

Still, very much worth reading. It reminded me a bit of the anime Haibane Renmei, which also involves a city of amnesiacs, and a central mystery about the nature of the world and the people in it. (I am absolutely not saying that Diemer ripped this off. It’s very different in many ways, and as I mentioned before, this general premise has been done by many people in many variations.)

Twixt
Hale’s portal fantasy The Rifter was one of my favorite books that I read this year. (I know, I have read very little this year. But it would have been one of my favorites no matter how many books I read.)

Wicked Gentlemen lacks the intensity and the epic quality of The Rifter, but has its own charms. In steampunk-ish world where the descendants of demons are an oppressed minority, Inquisition Captain Harper walks into the office of a down-on-his-luck demon detective, Belimai Sykes, to get some help with a murder case.

If that sounds like the opening to a noir, it’s because it has many of the elements of one: the teeming city, the straightlaced cop with a secret, the underworld into which the detective must descend, the narrator whose cynicism hides a tarnished and bitter idealism, the mystery whose solution reveals the social malaise at the heart of society, the sexual charge between detective and client.

But it’s a noir in which the femme homme fatale is the detective rather than the client, the romance is between two men, and the barriers between the haves and the have-nots include actual biological differences: not only to the demons have special powers (which mostly don’t do them any good) but the light of the human side of the city hurts their eyes, and the air of the demon side burns human skin.

It’s also more optimistic than most noir. The establishment may be corrupt, but it’s not such a dog-eat-dog world on an individual level. Many of the characters are quite likable. I was really rooting for the cop/criminal romance to succeed. It’s more a fantasy with a romantic angle than a romance in a fantasy world, but the romance was very well-done. (A one-night stand that becomes more.) It’s surprisingly sweet.

As in The Rifter, female characters are secondary but all have their own agendas and motivations. The language gives the cynical rhythms of noir a sensual lushness. Try the first page and see how you like it.

I should probably mention that one of the main characters is a drug addict. It’s a fantasy drug, and the reason he’s an addict involves the nature of the world and is crucial to the plot. Still, FYI.

Wicked Gentlemen
Spoilery for the entire series - seriously. And you really don't want to get spoiled for this if there's any chance whatsoever that you might read it.

I remembered something about book six (The Broken Fortress) and re-read it, and...

...how the hell did Hale do that? I don't think I've ever come across this particular use of foreshadowing before, or at least not the way she did it.

Read more... )
I completely got my money's worth of enjoyment out of this series. By the time I was approaching book nine, I didn't want it to end. But the ending was very satisfying.

There was one event in particular which was completely surprising, yet meticulously set up over ten books. There was another, also surprising yet completely set up, which caused me to email Buymeaclue a message whose non-spoilery text consisted of "OH MY GOD!!!!! Also, just opened the part where it shifts POVs and OH MY GOD I KNOW WHERE HE IS."

Now I want to read the whole thing over from the beginning. Due to the unusual structure, it will probably feel like an entirely new experience.

You can buy the whole shebang on e-book at a discount ($30 for the equivalent of four books), or in paper. However, the paper editions are in four volumes, and only two are out. You will probably end up with a mutant half-paper, half-e-book set if you attempt the latter.

http://www.blindeyebooks.com/rifter/

I mentioned before that the series reminded me of P. C. Hodgell. By the end, it also reminded me of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime (first series.) In both, nearly all the seemingly unrelated side stories and apparently unimportant minor characters turn out to be integral to the story as a whole. Also the unusual mix of a dark world with a magic system involving some major body horror, with funny moments and a lot of very likable and even idealistic characters who don’t (necessarily) get crushed under the author’s boot.

Read more... )

These books just kept getting better and better, from an intrigueing but somewhat rough start. I’m sure they will reward re-reading.
These volumes provide all sorts of climactic, dramatic, startling action, and then a surprisingly relaxed and even sweet and sometimes funny interlude... with DOOM hanging over it.

I like how, especially in these two volumes, people generally behave reasonably and listen when people say they have something important to tell them, and sometimes change their minds when presented with new evidence. There are definitely jerks, bad people, and people being ruthless, self-destructive, and cruel. But there's very little totally random assholery.

I have read way too many recent fantasy novels in which people behave completely irrationally to serve the plot and ensure that the obvious course of action taken by the protagonists won't work. ("Screw your evidence proving that you're not the person who killed my wife and someone else is! I tear it up and drink it like a milkshake, HA HA HA!") I appreciate how Hale often has the logical course of action work, but then new obstacles or unanticipated complications arise.

Everything else is completely and utterly spoilery.

Read more... )

Enemies and Shadows (The Rifter)

The Silent City (The Rifter)
I finally figured out what this series reminds me of: P. C. Hodgell's Godstalk series. Hodgell has more black comedy and flamboyant worldbuilding, and Hale concentrates much more on weaving a highly intricate story. But both series seem to have evolved from the same roots: bypassing Tolkien's high fantasy tradition in favor of the swords and sorcery of Fritz Lieber, Jack Vance, C. L. Moore, even Robert E. Howard.

It's interesting that while the overall plots and details of the two series have very few points of similarity - the kinship is more one of tone and atmosphere - both have heroes who are avatars of the destructive aspect of a God.

Beyond that, all I can say without spoilers is that this series just gets better and better as it goes along. Book five was particularly packed with holy shit! moments.

Marie, if you're reading this, you would appreciate that the only characters who do stupid things based on sexual desire are reckless, desperate teenagers. The adults generally manage to sensibly resist doing stupid things out of sexual desire, despite extreme temptation. (Homosexuality is banned in large parts of this world.)

Read more... )

The Holy Road (The Rifter)

Broken Fortress (The Rifter)
The series continues to be engrossing. Hale uses a very unusual structure which I love and only see occasionally. I don't recall ever seeing anyone else do it with Hale's particular twist. I'll cut for a structural spoiler which is also a moderate plot spoiler - you don't realize what the structure is until the beginning of book two, I think.

Read more... )

It's so well-done and clever! I love the creeeepy magic system. The supporting characters have gotten a lot more interesting as the book goes on. I like how the villains have comprehensible motives and generally aren't too over-the-top.

My main quibble at this point is that I'd like a little more clarity on some matters, given the sheer complexity of the story; sometimes stuff is mentioned that seems important, in a way implying that I should already know about it, and I have no idea if it was poorly or just very subtly set up.

For instance, Read more... )

There are also some odd choices about what to show and what to tell. John gets a job as a magical healer's assistant. At last, he will learn some (creepy and dramatic) magic! I eagerly flip the page...

...and it's several months later and he'd already learned it and is doing it as a matter of course. I wanted to see him do it for the first time!

But, in general, this is pretty awesome. Very immersive. I like that the characters are adults who generally behave like adults (and the teenagers behave like teenagers.) The dark bits are nicely spooky, and the comedy makes me laugh. ("So you let him poison you because you thought it would be easier than breaking up with him?")

There is a great bit that I am pretty sure is a nod to The Stars My Destination.. Read more... )

Black Blades (The Rifter)

Witches' Blood (The Rifter)
In the killer hook opening to this portal fantasy, John, a gay graduate student, has a problem. He and his mysterious roommate Kyle ran into each other in a bathhouse, and fled in opposite directions. Several weeks later, Kyle still hasn't returned, and the rent is coming up. And while Kyle is extremely strange - he's covered with weird tattoos, carries around swords and knives, always keeps his room locked, and, bizarrely, claims to be a milkman - he has never failed to pay the rent on time, which makes up for all other flaws as far as John is concerned.

While John is trying to figure out what to do, a letter arrives addressed to Kyle - the first Kyle has ever received - with no return address. In a mixture of desperation and pent-up curiosity, John opens it. It contains an ornate gold key, and a sheet of paper reading, "DON'T."

Cut to Kahlil (aka Kyle), who is on a mysterious errand in his own world, carrying a bag containing a talking skeleton and gloomily musing that once he gets back to our world, he will probably get the order to kill John at any moment. When he returns to our world (just in time to pay the rent), we see it through his eyes. Everything is shockingly vibrant, intense, and beautiful... compared to where he's from.

This is one of the most engrossing and fun otherworld fantasies I've read in a while. The worldbuilding is fascinating. Kahlil's world is suffused with a sense of wrongness, but not in the grimdark way where everyone is a rapist sociopath and nobody ever has any fun. It's meticulously detailed - there's a funny scene where John sits in a bath and tries to figure out what the hell the cleaning implements and ointments are for, then finds out when the servants arrive and start cramming tooth powder into his mouth - but faded. The food has little savor, the colors are dimmed, and even the air is thin. Some catastrophe seems to have cast a magical pall over the entire landscape.

While there are horror elements (like the talking skeleton and some very creepy magic), the tone is more like old-school swords and sorcery given a modern gloss than actual horror. It's dark in parts, but playful in others. There's banter and egg-laying weasels. The plot is complex and intriguing. I assume John and Kahlil will eventually have a romance, and that they will be instrumental in restoring life to the world. But in terms of how that will happen, I have no idea. The broad outlines may be clear, but the way in which things have happened has been consistently surprising.

There are some flaws, which have not spoiled my enjoyment. Some of the supporting characters get a lot of page time but very little character development. There are a few points where characters fail to take what seems like the obvious, sensible action, for no particular reason other than that the plot needed them not to. And while parts of the story have a very real feel to them, other parts are paper-thin. In particular, John seems to have sprung out of thin air, with no school responsibilities, no family, no history, and no associates other than the ones who are central to the plot.

Still, like I said: really fun. Without getting too spoilery, I will mention that John's introduction to the world is sufficiently rocky that I initially thought, "Oh, God, this is going to be that cliched crapsack world where every single character is a total asshole and everyone is constantly getting slaughtered for no reason." That turns out to not be the case. Or, at least, so far it hasn't been.

This is an extremely long novel broken into ten parts of about 100 pages each. If you have already read this, please note that I am only on Part 2. Please do not spoil me for anything past that!

The Shattered Gates (The Rifter)

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (The Rifter)
This is a very difficult book to review. It's a sequel to Anderson's Ultraviolet, which had some nice twists. Though the cover copy suggests that Quicksilver can be read on its own, it spoils every plot twist in Ultraviolet, starting from the very first page. (I also think it would be pretty difficult to follow without having read Ultraviolet first. In fact, I found some plot points difficult to follow because it had been so long since I had read Ultraviolet.)

They're both good books. But if you have any interest in reading either, start with Ultraviolet and don't even read the premise of Quicksilver - literally everything about it is a spoiler for Ultraviolet.

I am going to do two levels of spoiler cuts. The first level will be spoilery for Ultraviolet, the second for Quicksilver.

giant Ultraviolet spoilers )

giant Quicksilver spoilers )

Ultraviolet


Quicksilver
Malinda Lo’s latest novel opens with birds falling dead from the sky. Teenage Reese Holloway and her crush object/debate partner, David Li, are caught in a strange near-apocalypse as all over the world, flocks of birds crash into airplanes. Unable to get a flight home from their debate, they rent a car and try to drive back. After adventures which I won’t spoil, they make it back to San Francisco, where life has gone more or less back to normal… except for their strange new abilities, gaps in their memories, and the men in black who keep following them around. Reese meets a cute, mysterious girl, Amber, and finds that she isn’t as straight as she had thought. But that’s only the beginning of her discoveries…

Adaptation is quite different from Lo's Ash, a fairytale retelling, and Huntress, a quest fantasy. I liked it the best of the three, partly because so many elements of Adaptation suit my tastes, but more because it has an emotional immediacy that the other two didn’t quite reach. The setting, from apocalyptic freeways in Nevada to a lesbian club in San Francisco, is as vividly depicted as the characters’ feelings. The structure is distinctly three-act: action-packed beginning, long leisurely slow build of a middle, action-packed climax. I enjoyed all three, but you will probably like the book more if you know going in that the whole thing isn’t the wild ride of the beginning.

It’s old-school science fiction given new life by Lo’s gift for depicting moment-to-moment physical and emotional sensations, especially those of sexual attraction, and by her likable cast of characters, who are diverse in a natural-feeling, realistic way. Adaptation is built from familiar tropes, though ones currently extremely rare in YA, but is executed beautifully. Imagine an episode of the X-Files – an early one, back when it was still good – done as a sensual YA novel with a bisexual heroine and a love triangle that doesn’t make you want to throw things. If that sounds good to you, you will almost certainly enjoy this novel immensely.

It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it’s definitely one half of a complete story. The sequel will be out next year. I intend to buy it in hardcover.

Adaptation

Read more... )
Guardian (UK newspaper) article here!

"I hope that in the future, some bestseller about mutant or alien or gladiator teenagers will have its inevitable love triangle consist of a girl who must decide between the two girls who love her."
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I am delighted to announce that Stranger, the post-apocalyptic YA novel that I co-wrote with Sherwood Smith, will be published by Viking (Penguin Group) in Winter 2014.

The acquiring editor is Sharyn November. I have wanted to work with her ever since we met twelve years ago, at World Fantasy Con in Corpus Christi, Texas. She said that she was reprinting classic children's fantasies. I grabbed her by the shoulder and said, no doubt with a mad gleam in my eye, "Lloyd Alexander's Westmark! Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince! Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea" She smiled and said, "We're doing all three. Got any other suggestions?" Sharyn, thank you so much for championing our book.

Also, thank you very much, Eddie Gamarra and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein of the Gotham Group!

Yes, it's the Yes Gay YA book. Here's a little more about it:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

There are five main characters. One is Ross, who knows all about prospecting, fighting, and desert survival, but hasn't had to interact with other human beings on a regular basis since he was twelve. The others are teenagers from Las Anclas: Mia Lee, introverted genius and town oddball, who can design six different weapons before breakfast; Yuki Nakamura, an aspiring prospector who is dying to get out of his small town and explore the rest of the world; Jennie Riley, Changed telekinetic and over-achiever, who must choose between becoming the teacher of the one-room schoolhouse or joining the elite military Rangers; and Felicite Wolfe, the Mayor's narcissistic daughter, who likes to spy on people with the help of her pet mutant rat.

And yes. Yuki is still gay. So is his boyfriend, Paco Diaz, the drummer in the town band. And Brisa Preciado, who has the power to make rocks explode, is still dating shy Becky Callahan, who works after school waiting tables at the saloon. As you can see, this isn't so much a "gay book" or a "straight book" as an ensemble book.

Sherwood and I wanted to write something fun and exciting, with adventure and romance and mutant powers and martial arts and a vivid sense of place. And we wanted it to be about the people who are so often left out of those sorts of books: Latinos and African-Americans, Jews and Asian-Americans, gay boys and lesbian girls, multiracial teenagers and teenagers with physical and mental disabilities. We didn't do this to fulfill some imaginary quota, but because we wanted to write about teenagers like the real ones we know, the real ones in Los Angeles, the real ones we were.

We hope that, however flawed it may be, our novel will make even a few of those teenagers happy.

This is a very personal project for me. People often ask me if I'm ever going to write about coming back to America, after spending most of my childhood in an ashram in India. In a metaphoric sense, this is that book. To tell the story of what it was like for Ross to come to Las Anclas, I drew upon my own experiences of stumbling into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules, beset by memories I couldn't bear to recall and reactions I didn't understand, longing for connection but with no idea of how to relate to people.

Stranger is a post-apocalyptic adventure, not an issue novel. But all stories have their genesis somewhere, and for me, it was my wish to say, "It's okay. You're okay. You'll get better. You'll make friends. You'll fall in love. You can be a hero." I hope it finds its way to the people to whom it will speak.

If you would like to be notified when the book actually comes out, please comment to this post to say so. I will reply to your comment when the book is published, and you should get an email notification. Or you can leave your email address in a comment. (I can copy the address, then delete or screen the comment.) If you're not on LJ/DW, you can comment anonymously (or email me) with an email address where I can reach you.

Incidentally, I am putting out an e-book anthology of my short stories and poetry in a couple months. If you'd like to be notified when that's available, please comment to say so.

If you're interested in reading our book, you may also be interested in this list of YA science fiction and fantasy with major LGBTQ characters. And here's a list of YA fantasy and science fiction with protagonists who aren't white..

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, about the novel or anything else.

Finally, please feel free to Tweet, link to, or otherwise promulgate this post. Lots of people mentioned during Yes Gay YA that they would like to know what happened to this book, but the vast majority probably don't read my blog.
Five queer kids save the world after an apocalypse!

With that premise, I expected to enjoy the book a lot more than I actually did. It’s largely a comedy, with the apocalypse caused by Muldoona, a Goddess lurking in her Fortress of Despair and eating peeled grapes. Humor is the most subjective of forms, and others might well find this book funnier than I did. I mostly found it totally unfunny.

The first chapter introduces Skilly, a bisexual 5000-year-old caveman in a 17-year-old body, due to having been given an Amulet of Immortality by his brother Urf.

It is a rule of fiction that protagonist cavepeople get names that sound like names, and non-protagonists get guttural grunts. See also The Clan of the Cave Bear: Protagonist: Ayla. Leading Man: Jondalar. Supporting Cast: Creb, Brun, Broud. In both books, this is explained within the text: Ayla and Jondalar are Cro-Magnons, who are more verbal, and Skilly was not his birth name. Still, the rule stands. Why don’t cavepeople ever get brief names that don’t sound like manly grunts, like Eee, Bip, or Baa?

I am always complaining that ancient immortals never sound, talk, or act like ancient immortals. But in a comedy, why not mine the fact that a main character is prehistoric for laughs? Though Skilly mentions ancient stuff sometimes, he otherwise seems like a modern 20-something.

The other main characters are Vikky and Ginger, a pair of indistinguishable shallow, snarky teenagers, Julia, a less shallow but still snarky teenager, and Marly, who is trans or genderqueer. Marly’s gender identity is not clear-cut, which I liked. Marly is in a locked-in juvenile facility for skipping school. It was explained that teenagers can be locked up for stuff which is not illegal for adults. This is true, but, as was typical of many plot points, an unlikely motivation or occurrence does not get any more plausible just because it’s given one line of justification. Some of this was clearly meant as a joke, but I generally didn't find it funny. In other cases, even satire needs to make sense on its own terms, and this book often didn't.

The apocalypse consists of magically-induced nuclear catastrophe, which kills hundreds of thousands of people and leads to Ginger and Julia getting stranded, along with other shallow American tourists, inside Anne Frank’s house. This is every bit as embarrassingly anvillicious as it sounds. Meanwhile, Marly is stranded in juvenile detention. The kids’ predicament has some nice narrative tension… until Gods give them all magical amulets that solve everything.

If this had been about straight kids, I would not have made it past chapter one. If I hadn’t been on an airplane, I would have given up right there. However, I made it to the end, and I’m kind of glad I did, because the WTF just kept coming. Starting with Marly, previously the most sympathetic character, in the space of a single conversation, becoming one of the least sympathetic characters I have ever encountered in anything.

Read more... )

Not my cup of tea. But it might be yours! I have a low tolerance for hipster irony, and very particular tastes in comedy.

The End
After the apocalypse, persecuted gay lovers fight homophobia and dragons!

The mysterious sudden climate change called the Ice descended about eighty years prior to the beginning of this book. 17-year-old David's 100-year-old grandmother barely remembers what things were like before; the government is still hanging on and handing out precious seed wheat; the culture is reminiscent of the Old West but the social mores are reminiscent of the 1950s, due to a resurgence in religious and social conservatism immediately post-Ice.

The best things about this novel were the atmosphere and the voice. (This is the third book in a row I've reviewed with that note, isn't it?) The cold is palpable, David's voice is likable and unique, and the small town and its culture are very well-imagined: Little Town on the Prairie after the apocalypse.

The first third or half of the novel, in which David slowly introduces us to his world, is very strong. A young new healer, Callan, shows up to help the old one. In David's eyes, Callan is hot, sophisticated, bringing a whole new world of intelligence and culture in the form of precious books, and hot. I am a total sucker for the "what are these strange feelings?" trope, and David's awakening sexuality is sensitively depicted.

Problems set in at about the one-third mark, and the same one continues all the way through: amazingly stupid decisions. In a world in which doors have latches and homosexuality is punishable by death, I find it mind-boggling that the town healer, who commonly has people suddenly rushing into his office due to medical emergencies, would get a blow-job in his office without latching his door first. I also find it boggling that a townsperson would give him one under those circumstances. Sure enough, someone walks in, and both are immediately jailed.

This sort of thing is especially annoying because other aspects of the book continue to be very good. I'd be lulled along by the sweet romance and well-done scenes of post-apocalyptic life, and then wham! Astounding stupidity!

Also, the last half-to-third borders on grimdark. Warning for child harm. Major spoilers below.

Read more... )

A Strong and Sudden Thaw

There is a sequel, but Goodreads reviews suggest that it's excruciatingly depressing. I think I'll give it a miss. But I did enjoy the first book, albeit with caveats, and it has a satisfying ending.
Two high school girls have a romance while they're taking college classes at a summer camp for gifted kids. The only way this could have possibly been more up my alley would have been if "gifted" was in the "Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" sense.

Nicola, amateur artist and aspiring archaeologist, narrates the book in first person, with occasional excerpts from her diary, also in first person but with a different typeface and no capitalization. This may sound annoying, but it's actually adorable. Here's an excerpt from her diary. The "angst crows" are Goths, and the context is that she's looking around campus to see if she can spot any other queer kids:

and there's another boy i've seen, i think he's in katrina's class, who often wears long velvet skirts and lots of black eyeliner. but i believe this to be a fashion statement rather than a declaration of sexuality, since i have observed him making out with various angst crows.

i suppose he could like boys, too, though.

i of all people should remember that.


Though the romance between Nic and the remarkably named Battle Hall Davies is the main plotline, Ryan spends a lot of time on an ensemble of new friends, their friendships and romances and individual character growth, classes and picnics and dances. The emotions are realistic and sometimes angsty, but the whole summer has a shimmery nostalgic glow. The book is also very funny. Ryan has a great gift for comic setup/payoff, of which one of my favorites, a small moment but one which made me laugh and laugh, involved a boy's attempt to bypass the disgusting cafeteria food by claiming to keep kosher.

On the one hand, this is a perfect little book. On the other hand, I wish it had been longer. Battle had a lot of stuff going on that I got, but would have liked to have seen explored more. Also, I just wanted to keep on reading.

It reminds me a bit of Maureen Johnson's The Bermudez Triangle, another very funny book which mostly takes place over a summer and involves female friendship, female romance, and the complexity of sexual identity.

Empress of the World
You may recall YA fantasy author Malinda Lo's statistical breakdown of how many YA books have any LGBTQ characters, out of all YA fiction published in the USA in the last ten years. It turns out that it is a depressing 0.6%.

That 0.6% includes books in which the LGBTQ character is a minor supporting character.

As part her month-long blogging for YA Pride month, Malinda has once again crunched the numbers, this time for 2012, producing her trademark pie charts. The entire post is well worth reading, since she analyzes all sorts of things, but I'm pulling out her extrapolated percentage on YA fiction with LGBTQ characters for the year 2012: 1.6%.

1.6% includes anthologies with a few stories featuring LGBTQ characters, and the vast majority of the stories featuring straight characters. (11 of the total 55 books are anthologies.)

Of the total 1.6% of all YA fiction, 70% is mainstream/realistic, and only 30% fantasy/sf. Someone more mathematically minded than me will have to do a breakdown on what percentage of the total that is.

During the month, Malinda had a number of interviews with authors. The majority of them hadn't had much or any difficulty getting their books published. This was quite different from the experience of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA, and I wondered why a) there was such a split, b) why, if so many authors had no trouble, there were still so few books being published.

I have some ideas.

1. Fantasy vs. Mainstream

Most of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA to say that editors or agents had required or requested them to change their character's sexual orientation, race, disability, or gender (so the romance would be straight) were authors of fantasy or science fiction. Most of the authors Malinda interviews who had no issues with that were writing realistic fiction.

This is borne out by the statistics: of the tiny percentage of LGBTQ YA fiction being published at all, 70% is realistic.

I think that sf/fantasy YA publishing has more of a problem with LGBTQ characters than does realistic publishing. And I don't think it's because the former is more homophobic.

My theory is that historically in YA publishing, being a member of a minority is seen as a "problem." Characters who are not white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, etc, most commonly turned up in "problem books," in which the story is about how much prejudice you face and how hard it is to non-white, Jewish, disabled, gay, etc.

Fantasy, however, is perceived as escapist fun. Even dark dystopias are seen as an escape from real-world problems. If your identity is itself perceived as a problem, then you cannot be the hero of a fantasy novel.

Hence, the never-ending whitewashing of fantasy novels with protagonists of color. I don't think that's caused by someone thinking, "I hate black people! Make her white!" I think it's a combination of the thought that readers are racist and won't buy the book if the hero is accurately depicted, and the thought that if a person of color is on the cover, readers looking for fantasy will incorrectly perceive it as a novel about how much racism sucks, and not buy it.

Therefore, LGBTQ characters are an easier sell to the mainstream, because they fit into a pre-established genre. (Even if the actual books don't really fit it. Many don't.)

2. Books About Being Gay vs. Books with Gay Protagonists

This is often a matter of focus. You could write a book about a lesbian ballet dancer who faces homophobia, and have it primarily be about the struggle against homophobia, or her slow realization of her sexual orientation, or her romance with another dancer, or her obsessive drive to succeed.

My guess is that books with minority protagonists are the easiest sell if they can be perceived and marketed as primarily about the experience of being a minority. (Even if not about the problem of being a minority.) Lots of people do want to read about that experience, because it's their own experience. You can openly advertise the content, and the people who want to read it will buy it. It's irrelevant if people who don't have that identity ignore the books, because they're not the market.

Books which are not primarily about the experience of being a minority, but have a minority protagonist, are probably a harder sell. In theory, they could appeal to anyone who likes that particular story. Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, for instance, is a paranormal romance with a gay protagonist, not a novel about the experience of being gay while having paranormal experiences.

However, publishers often believe, correctly or not, that people who like that genre in general but are not specifically interested in gay themes - a larger group than the group of readers specifically looking for a "gay experience" book - will refuse to buy the book if the hero is gay. Then they feel like they're losing most of their potential audience. And so they ask, as Tracey has stated he was asked, for the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonist to be changed.

Ironically, the more a book has the perceived potential to appeal to an audience which does not match the identity of the protagonist, the more difficulty the author may have selling it as written.

3. Who Got Interviewed?

Malinda interviewed authors who sold their books. The authors who got so much pushback that they gave up or self-published did not get interviewed, because she never heard of them. The entire publication process selects against books which get the most resistance, and for books which get the least.

(This cuts both ways: Sherwood and I specifically asked for authors who had experienced pushback regarding their characters' identities to come forward, so we were selecting for the people with that experience.)

Many books are rejected for being bad. But I find it very hard to believe that, out of all submissions, the books with LGBTQ characters are so much worse than the books with straight characters that 99% of all published books are the latter.

NOTE: None of this, obviously, applies to publishers who solely or primarily publish LGBTQ books. This is about the rest of the publishers.

Discuss! Argue! Theorize! Go to Malinda's blog and check out her complete list of all LGBTQ YA published this year!
This novel alternates "Now" and "Then" sections. In "Then," teenage Cass bicycles across America with her best friend's ashes. In "Now," she has returned from her trip and is facing everything she tried to flee via road trip: high school, her friend's death, and the bully who called her a dyke in front of the entire school and now has inexplicably been given the starring role in Cass's he dead best friend's musical, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.

A sweet, poignant high school lesbian romance and coming-of-age story which also partakes of one of my least-favorite YA genres (my dead best friend) and one of my most-favorite (backstage drama). The former is well-done and non-moralistic; the latter is totally sweet. (Especially the excerpted song lyrics.) The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the climax to the "Then" section, in particular, was beautifully orchestrated and moving.

One of my favorite things about the whole book is that Cass, the heroine, is a Quaker, which affects her worldview in interesting, believable ways. I also liked that her parents are supportive and she doesn't rebel against them and her culture just because she's a teenager in a YA novel.

The main flaw was that many of the supporting characters were thin. While I believed in her theatre pals as a group, as individuals, there was not much to them. For instance, all we ever learn about Lissa is her ethnicity, that she's quiet, and that she's a vegetarian. Also, some of the dialogue would have been unusually self-aware and emotionally sophisticated coming from twenty-somethings, let alone supposedly socially awkward teenagers.

Overall, however, I liked this a lot. I leave you with these main selling points: 1. Teen lesbians. 2. Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad: The Musical.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (Only $6.80 on Amazon.)
Malinda Lo (Ash and Huntress) is celebrating YA Pride: "Every Friday in June, I’ll be listing the YA novels first published in 2012 that include LGBT main characters."

Books published in the first quarter: January through March.

From that list, I'm especially interested in the dystopia anthology, Brave New Love, with LGBTQ stories by Steve Berman, Nisi Shawl, Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum, and William Sleator, and Street Dreams, by Tama Wise, a Maori writer. "Living life on the sidelines of the local [South Auckland] hip-hop scene, Tyson finds that to succeed in becoming a local graffiti artist or in getting the man of his dreams, he’s going to have to get a whole lot more involved."
1. Shameless self-promotion here: My Draupadi poem "River of Silk" has been reprinted in Rose Lemberg's anthology The Moment of Change. I am in incredibly good company all around, but I have to especially boggle that I am sharing an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin, who is basically a goddess.

2. I have updated (and continue to update) my master list of YA fantasy and sf with major LGBTQ characters. (The list of YA fantasy/sf with protagonists of color is much longer and so taking me longer.)

Please check it out for books you might want to read and to tip me off to anything I might have missed. Please also check the notes at the top. If I get one more "But Vanyel!" or "But Tom and Carl!" I will lose my mind.

There are two other questions which I often get asked (though not as frequently as "But Vanyel!"), which I will address here since they're more complicated:

Q: Shouldn't the list be just of authors who identify as LGBTQ? Or at least separated out that way?

A: There are lists out there of LGBTQ authors. I totally support that. But I didn't do it that way on mine for these reasons: I don't know the identities of the majority of the authors. Also, identity is not always straightforward or publicly known. People sometimes write books first and come out later. Sometimes their own understanding of their identity changes. Sometimes it isn't safe to be out.

Sometimes identity isn't cut-and-dried. For instance, if you want to know my orientation in terms of straight/bi/lesbian line, I identify as straight. Basically, I think I'm closer to straight than to bisexual. If you give me a Kinsey scale, I identify as a 1.5 or a 2. Other people point to that exact same point on the line, and call it queer or bi.

In short: Sexuality and identity and labels are complicated. Also, my list, my personal preference for how to organize it.

Q: I see offensive books on that list. They should be removed or given a warning.

A: I see offensive books too. But one person's offensive book is another person's beloved, life-saving treasure. Case in point (though not on the list due to NOT BEING YA): Vanyel, rider of sparkly ponies and polarizer of opinions.

Labeling and removing for offense is a can of worms. Pretty soon every book that more than two people have read would have both a warning for offense and a note that some people don't find it offensive and do find it tremendously positive, and then the notes would become totally meaningless. If you're worried about being offended, get opinions on the matter from people you trust before reading.

3. The Diversity Book Club. So, obviously, grad school and running a book club has not been a match made in heaven. Should I try to continue? Would people still like to participate? Or should I just read and review on my own time, without trying to get people to read the same book at the same time?
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