What is “Good” LGBTQ YA?

What is “Good” LGBTQ YA?

No matter how many charts I make, none of them tell me anything about how good a book is. Obviously, individual taste varies, and no book is for every reader, but there is a way to assess which books are judged to be of high quality: examining the top awards for LGBTQ YA books.

Every year, books that are considered high quality by certain experts in the field are given awards. Within the young adult category, the most prestigious American awards are the Printz Award, given by the American Library Association, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, given by the National Book Foundation. These awards don’t focus on LGBTQ characters or issues, but in the past they have been given to books about LGBTQ characters or issues; for example, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial), won the Printz in 2015; and We Are Okay by Nina La Cour (Dutton) won the Printz in 2018.

Additionally, several awards focus specifically on books about LGBTQ characters. The American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award, which began as the Gay Book Award in 1986, started to honor LGBT children’s and young adult books in 2010. The Lambda Literary Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ literature, established the Lambda Literary Awards in 1988. They began recognizing LGBT children’s and young adult books in 1992.

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A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash

A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash

My first novel, Ash, was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers almost ten years ago, in September 2009. It was a retelling of “Cinderella” with a twist: Ash, the Cinderella character, falls in love with a woman rather than with Prince Charming. Ash lives in a world in which same-sex love is normal, so she doesn’t have to suffer through any coming-out angst. She gets her happily ever after.

Ash was received so warmly by readers in 2009, and in the years since then I almost feel like I’ve ceased being the author of Ash and instead become the keeper of memories for this book. So many readers have emailed me or told me in person how Ash made them feel seen; how it showed them that it was OK to be gay; how comforted they felt by the story. This is not something a writer can ever expect or hope for, and I’ve been deeply touched by every person who has shared their love of Ash with me.

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LGBTQ YA by the Numbers: 2015-16

LGBTQ YA by the Numbers: 2015-16

Since 2011, I've been tracking the number of young adult books about LGBTQ characters. Here are my statistics from 20112012, 2013, and 2014, as well as an overview of LGBT YA published by mainstream publishers from 2003–13. I took a break in 2015 and 2016, but this year I've decided to update my statistics to include the last two years. I have not calculated the numbers for 2017, since the year is not over yet.

Anyone who reads these posts can see that the topics I’ve been interested in unpacking have changed and focused, my methodology has been refined, and the language I’ve used to describe gender has changed as I’ve learned more and as the language itself has evolved. Before I begin, let me provide some context and background.

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2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

For the last three years I’ve been tracking the number of young adult novels about LGBT ((LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. It is currently most widely accepted English term used to identify sexual and gender minorities, but its initials omit other identies such as queer, intersex, asexual, and more. While I could add more initials (e.g., LGBTQQIA+) or use a term such as QUILTBAG, I believe that would simply be too confusing for the general reader, so I’ve chosen to follow the standards in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide - AP and New York Times Style.)) characters. Here are my statistics from 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as an overview of LGBT YA published by mainstream publishers from 2003–13.

Anyone who reads these posts can see that the topics I’ve been interested in unpacking have changed and focused, my methodology has been refined, and the language I’ve used to describe gender has evolved as I’ve learned more and as the language itself has evolved. I use the term “LGBT YA” to identify a young adult book with an LGBT main character or that has a plot primarily concerned with LGBT issues. Some books have multiple main characters, and if one of that cast of primary characters is LGBT, I also count that book as an LGBT YA book (e.g., Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater). In the cases of books about LGBT issues, those issues typically focus around a straight person’s relationship with an LGBT person who comes out to them (e.g., The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont). I do not include YA books with supporting LGBT characters because I think it’s important to focus on books where the LGBT person is the star of the story, but I recognize that the dividing line between supporting and main can be pretty blurry. Nor do I include YA books that have subtextual gay story lines (e.g., The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin; and more recently, Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry), because I’m focused on books where the gay story line is overt. (In other words, I’m tracking openly gay YA!) That means I may have left out some YA titles that others would count as “LGBT YA,” either on purpose or by accident.

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LGBT Young Adult Books 2003-13: A Decade of Slow But Steady Change

LGBT Young Adult Books 2003-13: A Decade of Slow But Steady Change

When I wrote my 2011 post that broke down the statistics on LGBT young adult books, I was relying on data collected by other people for other (equally valid) purposes. I wrote the post in one long, late night of number crunching, and I always hoped that I’d have the opportunity to revisit that data because I was pretty sure I’d gotten some things wrong. This year for YA Pride, I’ve decided to look at the data again, but with a different, more specific focus. My conclusions echo what I’ve concluded every year since 2011: There aren’t a lot of LGBT YA books being published, and there is definitely room for growth and change in the kinds of LGBT YA being published. The good thing is, I do think that change is happening, even if it’s at a snail’s pace.

The Data

Since 2011, I’ve realized that the data I used then, which mostly came from Christine Jenkins’s bibliography of LGBT YA and additional information provided by researcher Michael Cart, did not fully align with the goals of my own research. This isn’t necessarily surprising, because Cart and Jenkins, whose data came from co-writing the book The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature With Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–2004, were working on a different kind of project.

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