Mar 17, 2013
On Two Boys Kissing
On Friday, the book cover for David Levithan’s fall 2013 book, Two Boys Kissing, was released. We posted about it on Diversity in YA, which led to some interesting discussions on Tumblr. I’m cross-posting this here for folks who aren’t on Tumblr (and here’s a reminder: I’m on Tumblr! I post there a lot!):
Yes, this is the ACTUAL REAL BOOK COVER for David Levithan’s fall 2013 YA novel. Click through to Entertainment Weekly to read all about it.
OK, further thoughts on this now since I can’t hold them in. I also just reblogged this to the AfterEllen Book Club tumblr, and said:
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In the very same instance: how great is this cover so that the gay boys (and gay girls, and all queer people) CAN find it? Because maybe queer youth are trolling lit blogs and finding out what books they can find themselves in, …
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Okay but you know that part where you were like “gay boys (and gay girls and all queer people)”? Yeah that’s my problem with this. I’m sick of being a parenthetical in what should be my own fucking movement. And it seems to me like David Levithan has done precious little to change that.
This comment jumped out at me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since I saw it yesterday. Here are my thoughts on this: I totally get where you’re coming from, because I hate being a parenthetical, too. It fucking sucks. And as a writer who writes about people in the parentheses, it can be totally dispiriting to constantly (constantly!) see gay YA about white boys get the majority of the buzz in the industry.
And yet. I do think David Levithan has done a lot to change the way LGBT characters in YA are perceived. Here’s why:
1. Way back when Boy Meets Boy came out, it was revolutionary. David Levithan wasn’t DAVID FUCKING LEVITHAN back then, and yet he wrote this book about two boys falling in love with no problems, and it got published, and it has become something of a modern classic. That book, and the wave of LGBT YA published by authors like Julie Anne Peters and Brent Hartinger and Alex Sanchez that came out around the same time, totally changed LGBT YA. They did a lot to change the conversation within LGBT YA: moving it away from strictly coming out, to being able to BE out, period.
2. As an editor, David Levithan is uniquely positioned to not only understand how the industry works on the inside, but he can leverage that experience and his connections to make a difference. All of that insider knowledge combines with …
3. He’s now a best-selling writer who helped put one of the only YA books with gay main characters on the New York Times best-seller list, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-wrote with John “King of YA” Green. Do I wish a book about a queer girl could hit the NYT list? Hell yes. But the fact that WGWG made it on there actually DOES make it more likely than a book about queer girls will someday make it on there, too, because …
4. Now nobody can say that a gay* book can’t become a bestseller. I think that a lot of the publishing industry’s fear or trepidation about publishing gay books stems from the fact that very few of them have hit it out of the park $-wise. It’s good to have examples of gay books that succeeded. WGWG is that success.
* I know that “gay” is totally non-inclusive, and I’m using it here for a reason, because non-”gay” folks often do not understand that there is a difference between L, G, B and T, not to mention Q, Q, or I. In this case, they see us all as one thing: not straight. There are certainly differences in how easily the other letters of the QUILTBAG alphabet can find success in the commercial book marketplace, and I don’t mean to minimize those differences. I’m just saying that a lot of the time, non-”gay” folks won’t get the differences. They lump us all together. That’s another reason why many folks celebrate “gay” YA without realizing it’s all about white gay boys.
5. ALLIES are important. David Levithan is a white gay man, but he is absolutely an ally for all LGBTQ YA. 100% an ally. I don’t know him well, and I’ve only met him a couple of times, but I firmly believe he is on our side. The sad, disgusting truth is that white men can often get things done, because of their privilege, that non-white men cannot. It took David Fucking Levithan, writing a book about white gay boys, to get that book cover. If I had written a book about queer girls of color (oh wait, I did), there’s no way I’d get that cover a cover of them kissing, even if kissing was super important to the story (which it was!).
And also: David Levithan, who seems nearly indestructible in the industry because of his connections and experience, is way better positioned than a queer author of color to take the hit if Two Boys Kissing tanks. And let’s be honest: that book cover, while revolutionary and amazing, has a LOT of baggage riding on it.
If it succeeds, it will be freaking amazing. But I have no doubt that it will have a hard time because two boys kissing is still culturally less acceptable than two girls kissing; because it is the definition of “flaunting it” in the eyes of conservatives; because gay teens in high school really might be too worried about being bullied to be able to check that book out of their library. There are many reasons that book could fail.
For any average YA writer, a book’s failure = career failure. One book can end your career as a writer. That’s why a lot of YA writers are hesitant to write books that have minorities in them. It’s a fact. But David Levithan can deal with it. I have no doubt he can rebound from that kind of failure, and I have no doubt he will continue to write about queer characters in the future.
So: Yes, it is annoying when the next big gay YA thing is yet again about white gay boys. That is absolutely the truth. But I believe David Levithan is awesome. And I’m totally buying this book when it comes out.