There is a veritable slew of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books, young adult books, and books about parenting coming out right now (a “slew” being more than a “bevy” but less than a “flood”). I will be covering some of them in more depth for my newspaper column, but I wanted to mention a few new young adult books here. They’re a little outside my usual parenting focus, but I liked them enough to give them a mention.
Notably, today is the official launch date for Malinda Lo’s Huntress, the prequel to her 2009 debut novel Ash, a retelling of the Cinderella story with a lesbian twist. (See my review and author interview here.) Huntress, while set in the same world as Ash, is a standalone tale of adventure and romance, with less of a fairy tale feel and more that of classic fantasy, set in a realm with echoes of ancient China. It tells the tale of the first Huntress, an office held by a character in Ash, but never fully explained. In Huntress, we see the human world out of balance, threatened by strange creatures. Two 17-year-old girls are sent on a dangerous mission to seek help from the fairy queen—in a realm full of the unpredictable and fickle fairies of folklore, not the sparkly Disney types. The two girls, Kaede and Taisin, must combine their skills—Taisin as a sage, and Kaede as a warrior—if they are going to survive. And then they fall in love. . . .
If you grew up reading fantasy but wishing for more female heroines, or female heroines who got the princess rather than the prince, Huntress is for you. Yes, it’s a young adult book, but it’s at the upper end of the age range—the only difference from adult books being (as far as I can tell) that the main characters are themselves young adults, and the sex scenes are less graphic (but no less romantic for that).
Lo and fellow author Cindy Pon have also created the Diversity in YA Fiction Tour, and will be holding events across the country with other writers. See if they’ll be speaking near you.
I am also eagerly awaiting the April 19 release of Eona, by Alison Goodman, the sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. (The first book was also released in paperback as Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye) I first learned of the book from Nel Ward, former head of the American Library Association’s Rainbow Books project, which creates yearly lists of recommended LGBTQ-inclusive titles for children and young adults. Eon has both a protagonist who is a girl living as a boy and a significant and positive MTF transgender character. It did not make the Rainbow Books list, Ward explained, only because its cataloging information did not indicate any LGBTQ content, and the librarians missed it—but she wishes they hadn’t.
Eon is set in a fantasy land that is to Asia what Tolkien’s Middle Earth is to Europe. It is a rich fictional synthesis of many cultures and traditions to create a world wholly its own. Issues of gender—how we conceive it, what it means to be a man or a woman, what happens when those lines are blurred—are at the heart of the tale, which also contains enough action, suspense, magic, and court intrigue to keep readers up far too late turning the pages.
In discussing Eon, I should note Lo’s recent post about crossdressing characters and how there are both heterosexual and queer ways of interpreting crossdressing. She writes:
In [the heterosexual] understanding of cross-dressing, a heroine, temporarily disguised as a male, is allowed to taste the freedom of masculinity without ever truly straying from her inner femininity. She may, for example, struggle with menstruation while disguising herself as a man. Her feminine body is always in danger of being revealed through bathing or through accidents, etc. A lot of the time, cross-dressing heroines in fiction wind up falling in love with a man who awakens in her a desire to throw off the masculine mask and reveal her natural (read: feminine) body and being.
I personally hate this kind of cross-dressing story. Why? Because it ultimately underscores heteronormativity.
Spot on. But while Eon does include those issues of menstruation and potential revelation, it also shows the main character questioning women’s traditional gender roles in a deep and significant way. My read is that while she does not think of herself as a boy, she has definitely strayed “from her inner femininity,” at least in the traditional sense. She is not simply waiting to throw off her disguise and rejoin society as a girl.
The way Eon ends, it is possible, though far from certain, that she could end up falling in love with a man in the way Lo describes. But there were just enough twists and thoughtfulness about gender in the book to make me hopeful that the sequel will avoid that cliché, or will bend it into something that won’t make LGBTQ and feminist readers cringe. I have yet to read it; I’ll let you know when I do. You should definitely read the first volume, though, if you have any interest in swords-and-magic fantasy or issues of gender. (Again, it may be shelved as a YA book, but I think it holds interest for adults, too.)
On a completely different note, another recommended new YA book is Cris Beam’s I Am J, the fictional but not fantasy story of J, a transgender boy growing up in New York City. It has the hard ring of truth to it—Beam volunteered for several years at a high school for LGBTQ youth in Los Angeles, became the foster mother to a transgender girl, and wrote a non-fiction book about her experiences: Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers. Transparent is a brilliant blend of memoir, investigative reporting, and passionate advocacy.
I Am J is fictional, but Beam, who has an MFA in non-fiction writing from Columbia University and teaches creative writing at Columbia, New York University, and the New School, is more than up to the task of writing in either genre. She doesn’t shirk from the tough truths that many transgender teens face, but also manages to end the book on a positive and uplifting note.
Even if you have no interest in reading any of the above books yourself, you might try recommending them to the YA librarian at your public or high school library. They are the kinds of LGBTQ-positive books we need to have out there for teens. If those of us who were once teens also enjoy them, so much the better.
I am a member of the Amazon Associates program, and get a small referral fee from all purchases made at Amazon.com via links on this site. You are under no obligation to purchase through them.