An Introduction to LGBT Young Adult Fiction in the United Kingdom

By Erica Gillingham

Logo for YA Pride 2013If you live in the UK and enjoy reading or working with LGBTQ young adult novels, you have probably noticed something significant by now: most of the novels you read are US novels.

The hope is that this will change soon. In fact, at least seven novels are being published this year by UK authors in the UK. ((I make this distinction because there are LGBTQ novels that are written by UK authors but only published in the US. K.E. Payne’s 365 Days is one example.)) Even better news is that some of those authors, James Dawson and B.R. Collins in particular, have also published other strong LGBTQ YA (see recommended list at the end).  For 2013, these are the titles you can look out for on your local bookshop’s shelves:

  • Cruel Summer by James Dawson (Indigo)
  • Love in Revolution by B.R. Collins (Bloomsbury)
  • The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock (Jo Fletcher)
  • Pantomime by Laura Lam (Strange Chemistry)
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker)
  • Falling by Cat Clarke (Barrington Stoke) ((A caution for Falling and Undone by Cat Clarke: at least one of the LGBT characters in the books dies. Their deaths are very much linked to exposure about their sexuality and therefore I do not recommend them for readers.))
  • Undone by Cat Clarke (Quercus)

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While I’m delighted to share the scoop on new novels for 2013, the truth is that the history of LGBTQ YA novels in the UK has sometimes been as bleak as the grey weather for which the British Isles are known.

Book cover for Jenny lives With Eric and MartinThe darkest moment in recent memory is definitely be Section 28: a law banning the “intentional promotion of homosexuality” in schools from 1988–2003. The law was brought in during the Thatcher government, in part because the picture book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bösche—a book depicting a young girl living with her two dads in Denmark, translated into English—was discovered in a school. While this law didn’t apply to publishing it is hard to imagine that Section 28 didn’t have an adverse effect on the industry during that time. ((Sadly, the legacy of Section 28 may be continuing to have an effect today, at least on what books young people have access to in their schools.))

One bright spot in the 1980s and 1990s in UK publishing was Aidan Chambers, who wrote Dance on my Grave (1982) and Postcards from No Man’s Land (1999) and whom continues to be a prolific writer. The new millennium brought a few more novels, like The Shell House (2002) by Linda Newbery and Sugar Rush (2004) by Julie Burchill, but the pickings continued to be pretty slim.

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Like most things, however, it is not as easy as blaming one law on the dramatic dearth of LGBTQ YA novels in the UK. In a recent post for Once Upon a Bookcase, Non Pratt of Catnip Publishing wrote about the lack of submissions with gay protagonists from UK authors and the effects of the UK publishing market being one-fifth the size of the US market. Her post is well worth a read and the message is clear: UK writers—get writing LGBTQ stories and submit them for publication!

The even better news: A LOT of conversations are taking place right now about diversity in children’s and young adult publishing. Some of the leaders of that conversation have been Booktrust (particularly with their recommended list), Inclusive Minds and Letterbox Library. They recently put on a panel at the London Book Fair entitled Equal Measures to engage in a discussion with the publishing industry about what needs to be done to see more LGBTQ YA in the UK.

A PhD student in Librarianship at Sheffield University, Liz Chapman has also been working tirelessly to keep up-to-date on all of the LGBTQ children’s and young adult novels available in the UK (regardless of where they were originally published). You can see that list by going to her university webpage and downloading the lists she has compiled.

My hopes is that this gives you an idea of the status of LGBTQ YA in the UK, a bit of the history behind it, and the potential yet to be seen. With that, I leave you with my top picks of LGBTQ YA (luckily, there have been a few more published since 2004!) and some UK-based resources for further findings. Happy reading!

LGBTQ YA Recommended Novels (published 2012 and prior)

  • Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman
  • The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (series)
  • The Traitor Game by B.R. Collins
  • My Side of the Story by Will Davis
  • Hollow Pike by James Dawson
  • Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
  • Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
  • Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd
  • What's Up with Jody Barton? by Hayley Long
  • Pretty Things by Sarra Manning
  • The Shell House by Linda Newbery (also Sisterland)
  • Scrivener’s Moon by Phillip Reeve (third book in the Fever Crumb series)

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UK-based Resources

HUGE thank you to Liz Chapman, for her input and advice in compiling this blog post! Follow her on Twitter: @lgbtlibrarian.

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yap-author-gillinghamErica Gillingham is a PhD student at Roehampton University in London. Her research is in Love and Romance in LGBT YA literature. When she’s not reading teen novels, she is an avid crafter, a quiet poet and a sometimes gardener. For #currentlyreading and LGBT-related quips, follow her: @ericagillingham. .

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Don’t forget to check out the Giant YA Pride 2013 Giveaway to win tons of wonderful LGBT YA novels.