Getting a little ahead of the game with my post this week, since I’m anticipating a long day ahead – but it’s just after midnight, so technically it’s already Wednesday! When I first saw this week’s topic, I thought it would be a very easy one. This week, the theme is our favourite LGBTQ+ reads, either by authors who are LGBTQ+ or featuring characters who are LGBTQ+. I personally pay very little attention to the sexual orientation of the author unless it is explicitly mentioned somewhere, but I have noticed that there have been a ton of books, mainly YA, featuring LGBTQ+ characters lately. I don’t quite want to say it’s becoming a trend, but it is definitely becoming more prevalent.
My first real exposure to LGBT characters in pop culture was when Willow started a relationship with Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I remember being shocked by it at first, although it wasn’t because they were both women. I really loved Willow and Oz as a couple, and at the time, I thought Willow dating another woman was completely out of nowhere. It took some getting used to, but Willow and Tara quickly became one of my all-time favourite “ships” (as much as I cringe to use that word). Aside from that, I can’t can only remember two major examples of LGBTQ+ characters on TV – Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek, and Will & Grace as a series. While I’m sure LGBTQ+ characters have always existed in fiction, they were often subject to censorship so their presence was not always as obvious as it is today. That’s not to say that current representation is perfect, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.
As I mentioned previously, I thought this topic would be an easy one since I could think of several LGBTQ+ books that I had on my TBR. It wasn’t until I started looking at my list in more detail to pick my favourites that I realized I haven’t yet read many of the books I had in mind! Here are five that I’ve really enjoyed so far, and I’m hoping to read more. I will say that I don’t pick up a book just because it has an LGBTQ+ character or storyline, but since I tend to love YA contemporary, it is something I naturally come across fairly often.
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
I read this book last year because of all the hype surrounding it, and it definitely lived up to it! The book is about Simon, a teenage boy who is gay and who has been exchanging anonymous e-mails with another gay student, with the username Blue, at his school. While Simon tries to decide whether he should try to meet his friend in real life, their e-mails are discovered by someone who threatens to out both boys unless Simon helps him get a date with his female best friend. One of the things I really appreciated about this story is that it read as a typical high school romance, whose main characters just happened to be male, if that makes sense. Simon’s sexuality was an essential plot point, but it was not necessarily the key to the story. At it’s heart, it was a book about deciding to take the next step, and whether to bring an online relationship into reality. In many of the LGBTQ+ books that I’ve read, plots often centre on characters coming to terms with who they are, or struggling to come out. It was nice to have a story that bypassed that step to a character who was already sure of who he was, so the focus could be on the characters and their relationship, not their orientation.
2) The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
It took me way too long to try a book by David Levithan, although many of his books have been on my TBR for a long time. David Levithan is a gay man himself, and many of his books focus on LGBTQ+ characters. I chose this book because of its unique style. The book is told in the form of dictionary entries, with words listed alphabetically and defined by a scene from the couple’s relationship. What is interesting about this book is the way it very carefully avoids using gender pronouns. There were some indications that the narrator was male, but his partner was left ambiguous and completely open to interpretation. Part of the strength of the book is that it ultimately does not matter who or what gender the characters are, because the way their relationship plays out can apply to anyone. It is by far one of the most creative concepts I’ve seen, and the book was a very short, quick read but one that had real power behind it.
3) Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh
I first heard about this story through the movie trailer, which showed a relationship developing between two young women. I thought the movie looked interesting, but to this day I still haven’t seen it yet. I decided to try the graphic novel that it was based on instead. The book is about a high school junior named Clementine who falls in love at first sight with a blue-hared girl named Emma, but pushes aside her feelings because she’s always identified as straight. Over time, Clementine and Emma become friends and eventually develop a relationship. I thought the book did a great job of showing the development of the complex relationship between the characters, and in showing the negative, homophobic attitudes they have to contend with. For such a relatively short story, at only 160 pages, it was a very strong one. The relationship between the women felt very real, and I liked how the author and illustrator could convey so much emotion with relatively few words. Even more explicit content was handled in a way that advanced the plot without being too unnecessarily graphic. Like with Simon above, I loved how the story focused primarily on the relationship rather than the girls’ orientation, while still giving attention to issues such as acceptance and homophobia.
4) Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
This was a book that I read very recently, but had been on my list for a while. It is about Riley Cavanaugh, a gender fluid teenager who starts writing an anonymous blog to help cope with feelings and experiences at school. Gender fluidity is a topic that I know very little about, and although I’m still not sure I understand it well, I think this book helps. It brings human, realistic voice to the topic that shows the reader what it might feel like to be gender fluid. The author deftly avoided ever revealing Riley’s biological sex, which really brought home the point that gender is largely irrelevant to getting to know someone as a person. At the end of the day, Riley’s biological sex really didn’t matter to who Riley was. I thought Riley was a very well-developed character, and the blog posts used throughout the book helped to explain gender fluidity in a clear, meaningful way. The plot was a little on the generic side, but the character development and the strength of the writing were strong enough to compensate, and I would highly recommend this book because it is from a perspective that I don’t think has been explored very often yet.
5) Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley
I chose this book for this list because of the way it incorporated an LGBTQ+ plotline into a story in such a natural way. I actually picked this book up in the first place because of the mental illness element, and did not realize it was an LGBTQ+ book until later on. The book is about a 16-year-old boy named Solomon who is agoraphobic and who has isolated himself at home due to a very public panic attack at school. Lisa, a former classmate of his decides to take him on as her “project” in attempt to write an essay to get herself into a psychology program in college. Solomon also happens to be gay, and develops feelings for Lisa’s boyfriend after she introduces him in attempt to broaden Sol’s social world. I thought the LGBTQ+ aspects of the book were handled very well and realistically. I liked how the book treated LGBTQ+ characters with acceptance and respect, and that their sexuality was not a main defining feature of the character. The book was very well-written, and the interactions between the characters felt very natural. I think this book is a great example of how to work in diverse characters to a story without putting undue attention on what makes them “diverse.”