Graduate Journal Reprint: The Library and LGBTQ+ Literature, Reader Representation and Recognition

(Note: This is one of a few blog posts I’ve decided to republish here, from a course journal blog I put together as part of my MLIS graduate program. I’m thinking I’d like to do more posts like these in the future, and so I’m reposting these as a sort of inspiration/reminder for myself! Original publication date: September 29, 2017)

Required Primary Reads:

  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out / Susan Kuklin
  • Between Mom and Jo / Julie Ann Peters

Read for Annotated Bibliography Project:

  • Amy Asks a Question: What’s a Lesbian? / Jeanne Arnold (Lesbian Representation)
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Gay Representation)
  • Carry On / Rainbow Rowell (Gay Representation)
  • Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen / Garth Nix (Asexual Representation)
  • How to Be A Normal Person / T.J. Klune (Gay/Asexual Representation)

Overall Thoughts: the Librarian’s Responsibility to the LGBT+ Reader

“Under the very best of conditions, navigating adolescence can often be a confusing, lonely, and occasionally overwhelming experience, as teens seek to find their way between the expectations others have for them … and the drive to lay claim to their newly independent self … Identity formation, the main task of adolescence, requires a relatively safe and supportive framework within which adolescents can come to know their true selves … Identity formation is a much more difficult task for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth … LGBTQ adolescents struggle with the decision of not just who they are, but whether they are, and who they dare to tell about it.”

“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?” (Sandra Hughes-Hassell; Elizabeth Overberg; Shannon Harris)

As librarians, we have a responsibility to provide information and materials to our patrons, including the LGBTQ+ community, especially now that the community is thankfully becoming more and more accepted by society. A wide variety of works including LGBTQ+ characters and narratives are being published at a much faster rate than before, where before there was an unquestionable lack of material for readers to enjoy, and our libraries – public and school alike – need to reflect this. Where before a book with a LGBTQ+ character would have been few and far between (and even then, enforced stereotypes or was not of the best literary quality), today’s readers find a plethora of options to choose from when looking for their next LGBTQ+ read, with diverse representations and quality writing. It is important to make these books available for the general public’s consumption, regardless of sexual orientation (including those who do not identify as LGBTQ+!), as exposure to this topic encourages empathy towards, and understanding of, the community and their experiences, while providing the much-needed support and insight for those patrons who identify with the community.

Studies and articles, such as the one quoted above, have discussed the fact that LGBTQ+ teens, in particular, struggle with adolescence and identity formation much more than their non-LGBTQ+ peers; the availability of texts and materials to this community that reflect their own personal experiences and thoughts is crucial in that it gives readers in this vulnerable age group the opportunity to recognize themselves in various works (both fiction and nonfiction) and the confirmation that what they’re feeling is entirely normal and in no way wrong. Books in which the protagonist, or another main character, is a part of the LGBTQ+ community give their LGBTQ+ reader an opportunity to recognize themselves in the text and feel represented, and less alone; books in which LGBTQ+ characters can be found as side characters or in the background remind their LGBTQ+ reader, again, that they are not alone, that others like them (a whole community!) exist and share similar experiences.

Evaluation of Selected YA LGBTQ+ Texts

For this particular post, I plan to evaluate the novels I read for my annotated bibliography contributions, and examine how each represents/discusses the LGBTQ+ community in regard to the following aspects:

  1. Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
  2. Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
  3. Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their sexuality?
  4. Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity (for example: the protagonist might be a lesbian, but this fact has no importance in how the plot plays out)?
  5. Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?

Amy Asks A Question: What’s a Lesbian? / Jeanne Arnold

A work of Children’s Lit.; this informative book introduces children to the notion of what it means to have family members or neighbors who are lesbian/gay, and portrays the history of the LGBTQ+ community pre-1997 (inability to get married – until recently! -, as well as discrimination in the workplace) and their experiences (gay pride parades, secret signals to portray oneself as a member of the community to others).

  • Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
    • Amy has two grandmothers who are lesbians, and it is mentioned in passing that she has a gay uncle as well.
  • Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
    • Side characters.
  • Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their identity?
    • Amy’s grandmothers are definitely secure in their identity and sexuality – they’ve been together for twenty years!
  • Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity?
    • Central plot point, since the book aims to educate it’s readers on the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?
    • Happy ending! 🙂

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Sáenz

A work of YA literature; this beautifully-written book portrays the coming-of-age story of two inseparable Mexican-American teenagers, Ari and Dante, best friends who first meet at the swimming pool over summer break in 1987, as the two struggle with their feelings towards each other as they grow up. Dante immediately falls in love with Ari but tries (unsuccessfully) to move on, while Ari represses his own sexuality out of fear and repeatedly denies his own love for Dante. After both boys find support in their families, they are able to accept their feelings and give readers the happy ending they’ve been waiting for.

  • Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
    • Ari and Dante are both gay; there are a couple other gay men mentioned in the book, and Ari is told by his parents that his beloved late great-aunt was a lesbian who lived with another woman for decades, despite her immediate family’s immense disapproval.
  • Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
    • POV character/main character.
  • Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their identity?
    • This book absolutely centers around a realization/coming-out narrative, with the conclusion coming after Ari, the protagonist, is able to accept his love for Dante (who is more secure in his identity throughout the book) after finding a support system in his parents.
  • Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity?
    • Central plot point.
  • Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?
    • Happy ending! 🙂

Carry On / Rainbow Rowell

A work of YA literature; Carry On is a parody of the popular Harry Potter series, complete with magic, dragons, a Wizardry boarding school, and a chosen one – albeit “the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen”. Eighteen-year-old Simon Snow, the Chosen One, struggles with learning magic while keeping a watchful eye on his roommate Baz Grimm-Pitch, his self-proclaimed nemesis since their first year who he’s convinced is a vampire out to get him. Of course, it turns out that Baz has been watching Simon too, but for other reasons! The two declare a truce in their rivalry to solve the murder of Baz’s mother, but end up discovering their feelings towards the other along the way.

  • Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
    • Baz is gay, but Simon’s sexuality is ambiguous (as stated by the author in various interviews): he’s previously perceived himself as straight, yet feels attraction to Baz – but no other males. There is also a lesbian couple mentioned throughout the book, but they are never introduced to the reader other than in passing.
  • Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
    • POV characters.
  • Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their identity?
    • For Simon, there is definitely realization towards his feelings for Baz; Baz, on the other hand, has always been secure in his identity as “queer”.
  • Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity?
    • Central plot point.
  • Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?
    • Happy ending! 🙂

Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen / Garth Nix

A work of YA literature; this is the fourth book in Nix’s The Old Kingdom series but serves as a prequel to the first three, setting up the backstory of the series’s villain, the feared and immortal necromancer Chlorr of the Mask – known as Clariel before her turn to dark magic. This novel portrays the incendiary components that bring about her turn to necromancy (the ignoring of Clariel’s own choices and desires by her parents, her usage as a political (and magical) pawn by her family and friends, and ultimately, a violent betrayal) in an attempt to both gain control of her life and avenge the political murders of those close to her.

  • Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
    • This book is remarkable in that it is one of the few popular young adult novels with a clearly stated canon asexual protagonist: Clariel openly declares her disinterest in sex numerous times. (Asexuality – often defined as a lack of sexual attraction – has been nicknamed the “invisible orientation”, as many people do not understand or even know about this particular orientation; I thought, therefore, that it would be important to find a book or two that included characters who identify as “ace” for my annotated bibliography entries)
  • Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
    • POV character.
  • Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their identity?
    • Clariel is secure in her identity by the time the narrative begins.
  • Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity?
    • Clariel’s asexuality is mostly just an aspect of her personal identity, as it ultimately has no bearing on her quest for revenge.
  • Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?
    • While Clariel doesn’t exactly get a happy ending, this is to be expected – this novel is, after all, telling the story of how a sweet caring girl became the terrifying necromancer of the Old Kingdom series.

How to be a Normal Person / T.J. Klune

A work of ‘new adult’ literature, this book tells the story of a relationship between an antisocial, gay, technology-averse man – Gus – and Casey, the asexual hipster new to town. Gus, realizing Casey is interested in him (albeit not sexually), decides to try to become “more normal”, setting off to buy new clothes, try vegan restaurants, and invest in not only a television, but a computer as well – an Instagram is just too much! It’s a comedic story about staying true to oneself, and a good example of how, despite stereotypes, asexual people too can participate in a loving relationship, without sex.

  • Which aspect(s) of the LGBTQ+ community is/are discussed or included in the book?
    • Gus is openly gay, and Casey is openly asexual; Gus’s close friends are three elderly women who are either three sisters or in a polyamorous lesbian relationship – he’s too afraid to ask; and Casey’s best friends are all introduced as either gay or pansexual.
  • Is the LGBTQ+ character a main/POV character, or a side/background character?
    • POV character/main character/side characters.
  • Is the narrative a realization/coming-out story, or is the character already secure in their identity?
    • Both characters are secure in their identities by the time they meet.
  • Is the character’s sexuality a central plot point, or just an aspect of their personality/identity?
    • Sexuality is a central plot point in the novel, as the narrative focuses on how these two characters can have a loving relationship despite their differing sex drives.
  • Do the characters have a happy ending, or does this book perpetuate the tiresome and controversial “bury your gays” trope?
    • Happy ending! 🙂

Other LGBTQ+ Lit. Recommendations

The books above are all very good reads for anyone looking for novels inclusive of LGBTQ+ characters; in addition to these, listed below are other popular books I’ve enjoyed that one can recommend for anyone searching for their next read inclusive of LGBTQ+ representation:

  • Our Bloody Pearl / D.N. Bryn (YA lit.)
  • History is All You Left Me / Adam Silvera (YA lit.)
  • The Song of Achilles / Madeline Miller (Adult lit.)
  • The Darker Shade of Magic series / VE Schwab (YA lit.)
  • If We Were Villains / M.L. Rio (Adult lit.)
  • Ice Massacre / Tiana Warner (YA lit.)
  • The Raven Cycle series / Maggie Stiefvater (YA lit.)
  • The Witch Boy / Molly Knox Ostertag (Middle Grade lit.)
  • Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, the Trials of Apollo series, and the Magnus Bane and the Gods of Asgard series. (Children’s/Middle grade lit.)

(2022 Note: I’m happy to add, there have been so many great LGBTQ+ books published since I wrote this back in 2017, especially in for Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Children’s Lit readers! I will likely write up another post similar to this, examining newer publications.)

What I’d Like to Read in 2022

Hey, look, it’s another booklist (and, later on, some musings about Book Riot’s 2022 Read Harder Challenge)!

Instead of doing my usual charade of writing up a list of specific titles I’d like to read this upcoming year – just for me to ignore it in favor of whatever books catch my eye in the library or bookstore – I’ve decided to come up with a list of topics I want to read more about, and list some titles I’ve found that I might read towards that goal. Sort of like a mini syllabus?

So, without further ado:

Medieval England

It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve stepped back into Medieval England, and that’s saying something, coming from someone who practically minored in the subject back in undergrad. I’ve found myself missing it – after checking my Goodreads, it’s apparently been TWO years since I’ve last read something specific to Medieval Britain (Josephine Wilkinson’s The Princes in the Tower, to be specific). TWO YEARS! So, of course, I’ve been curating a list of books at my local library that take place in Medieval England (and definitely have some at home I’m looking to reread, too):

Timeline / Michael Crichton

This is actually one of my favorite books of all time; I’ve reread it a number of times since I first picked it up in 2010 (according to Goodreads, I read it again in 2012, 2013, and 2016), putting it on that small list of titles I’ve consistently reread in the past ten years. (Unfortunately, the movie was pretty terrible – I wouldn’t recommend it)

The Last Duel / Eric Jager
Agincourt / Bernard Cornwell
Matrix / Lauren Groff
Here Be Dragons / Sharon Kay Penman

Jewish Literature

Confessions of the Fox / Jordy Rosenberg
The Weight of Ink / Rachel Kadish
The Orchard / David Hopen

Disability Visibility

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space / Amanda Leduc
Disability Visibility: Twenty-First Century Disabled Voices / Anthology

Book Riot also released their 2022 ‘Read Harder’ Challenge prompts the other day, so of course I had to take a gander. The whole point of their tasks is to get readers to pick up titles and/or authors they otherwise might not have; I’ve never participated in one of their yearly challenges, but there are some interesting challenges on their list that I think I might try out.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself and claim that I’ll read something for every single task on the list – that, I think, would be getting ahead of myself, and far too ambitious. But there are absolutely some tasks on there I really do want to read towards. For example, ‘read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes’, ‘read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character’, ‘read an anthology featuring diverse voices’ (I’ve already got one title that would work for this one listed above). ‘Read a history about a period you know little about’ is one that I want to do, but I’m not sure which period I’ll choose…

TBR: Recently Released Nonfiction

Just a quick booklist of some newly released nonfiction titles I’ve found in the stacks at my local library that I’ve since added to my TBR.

True Crime

True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina / Cathy Pickens

Goodreads Summary: “Eastern North Carolina is a land of contrasts, and its crime stories bear this out. A lovelorn war hero or a stalker? Conniving wife or consummate homemaker? Murder or suicide? The answers can be as puzzling as the questions. Mystery author Cathy Pickens details an assortment of quirky cases, including a duo of poisoning cases more than one hundred years apart, a band of folk hero swamp outlaws, sex swingers and a couple of mummies. Each story has, in its way, helped define Eastern North Carolina and its history.”

Highway of Tears : A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls / Jessica McDiarmid

Goodreads Summary: ” A searing account of the missing, and murdered, Indigenous women of Highway 16, and an indictment of the society that failed them. For decades, Indigenous women have gone missing, or been found murdered, along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The highway is known as the ‘Highway of Tears’, and it has come to symbolize a national crisis. Journalist, Jessica McDiarmid, investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on the families of the victims and their communities, and how systemic racism and indifference have created a climate where Indigenous women are over-policed, yet under-protected. Through interviews with those closest to the victims–mothers and fathers, siblings and friends–McDiarmid offers an intimate, first-hand account of their loss and relentless fight for justice. Examining the historically fraught social and cultural tensions between settlers and Indigenous peoples in the region, McDiarmid links these cases to others across Canada–now estimated to number up to 4,000–contextualizing them within a broader examination of the undervaluing of Indigenous lives in this country. Highway of Tears is a powerful story about our ongoing failure to provide justice for missing, and murdered, Indigenous women, and a testament to their families and communities’ unwavering determination to find it.”

Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society / Judy Christie, Lisa Wingate

Goodreads Summary: “From the 1920s to 1950, Georgia Tann ran a black-market baby business at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. She offered up more than 5,000 orphans tailored to the wish lists of eager parents–hiding the fact that many weren’t orphans at all, but stolen sons and daughters of poor families, desperate single mothers, and women told in maternity wards that their babies had died. The publication of Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours brought new awareness of Tann’s lucrative career in child trafficking. Adoptees who knew little about their pasts gained insight into the startling facts behind their family histories. Encouraged by their contact with Wingate and award-winning journalist Judy Christie, who documented the stories of fifteen adoptees in this book, many determined Tann survivors set out to trace their roots and find their birth families. Before and After includes moving and sometimes shocking accounts of the ways in which adoptees were separated from their first families. Often raised as only children, many have joyfully reunited with siblings in the final decades of their lives. In Before and After, Wingate and Christie tell of first meetings that are all the sweeter and more intense for time missed and of families from very different social backgrounds reaching out to embrace better-late-than-never brothers, sisters, and cousins. In a poignant culmination of art meeting life, long-silent victims of the tragically corrupt system return to Memphis with Wingate and Christie to reclaim their stories at a Tennessee Children’s Home Society reunion . . . with extraordinary results.”

Other (Mostly On Mental Health)

Hoarders / Kate Durbin

Goodreads Summary: “In Hoarders, Durbin deftly traces the associations between hoarding and collective US traumas rooted in consumerism and the environment. Each poem is a prismatic portrait of a person and the beloved objects they hoard, from Barbies to snow globes to vintage Las Vegas memorabilia to rotting fruit to plants. Using reality television as a medium, Durbin conjures an uncanny space of attachments that reflects a cultural moment back to the reader in ways that are surreal and tender. In the absurdist tradition of Kafka and Beckett, Hoarders ultimately embraces with sympathy the difficulty and complexity of the human condition.”

Disfigured: On Fairy-tales, Disability, and Making Space / Amanda Leduc

Goodreads Summary: “In fairy tales, happy endings are the norm—as long as you’re beautiful and walk on two legs. After all, the ogre never gets the princess. And since fairy tales are the foundational myths of our culture, how can a girl with a disability ever think she’ll have a happy ending? By examining the ways that fairy tales have shaped our expectations of disability, Disfigured will point the way toward a new world where disability is no longer a punishment or impediment but operates, instead, as a way of centering a protagonist and helping them to cement their own place in a story, and from there, the world. Through the book, Leduc ruminates on the connections we make between fairy tale archetypes—the beautiful princess, the glass slipper, the maiden with long hair lost in the tower—and tries to make sense of them through a twenty-first-century disablist lens. From examinations of disability in tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen through to modern interpretations ranging from Disney to Angela Carter, and the fight for disabled representation in today’s media, Leduc connects the fight for disability justice to the growth of modern, magical stories, and argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is other—helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies.”

You Will Get Through This Night / Dan Howell

Goodreads Summary: “A practical guide to taking control of your mental health for today, tomorrow, and the days after, from the Sunday Times bestselling author and beloved entertainer. ‘There’s a moment at the end of every day, where the world falls away and you are left alone with your thoughts. A reckoning, when the things you have been pushing to the background, come forward and demand your attention.’ Written by Daniel Howell, in conjunction with a qualified psychologist, in an entertaining and personal way from the perspective of someone who has been through it all – this no-nonsense book gives you the tools to understand your mind so you can be in control and really live.”

We’re Not Broken : Changing the Autism Conversation / Eric Garcia

Goodreads Summary: “With a reporter’s eye and an insider’s perspective, Eric Garcia shows what it’s like to be autistic across America. Garcia began writing about autism because he was frustrated by the media’s coverage of it; the myths that the disorder is caused by vaccines, the narrow portrayals of autistic people as white men working in Silicon Valley. His own life as an autistic person didn’t look anything like that. He is Latino, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and works as a journalist covering politics in Washington D.C. Garcia realized he needed to put into writing what so many autistic people have been saying for years; autism is a part of their identity, they don’t need to be fixed. In We’re Not Broken, Garcia uses his own life as a springboard to discuss the social and policy gaps that exist in supporting those on the spectrum. From education to healthcare, he explores how autistic people wrestle with systems that were not built with them in mind. At the same time, he shares the experiences of all types of autistic people, from those with higher support needs, to autistic people of color, to those in the LGBTQ community. In doing so, Garcia gives his community a platform to articulate their own needs, rather than having others speak for them, which has been the standard for far too long.'”

Library Book Sale Haul: August 2021

This past August, I was lucky enough to get to work a handful of shifts at my local library’s annual autumn book sale. I’ve frequented the sale for many years, but this was my first time there as a librarian (rather than a patron), and my first time behind one of the registers! It was pretty fun, and I was surprised at how many people I saw there that I knew from outside of work. When I wasn’t helping set up in the morning, or cashing out purchases, though, I was able to take some time to browse the selection – I ended up coming in on one of my days off, just so I could take an hour for myself to see what titles were still available. Contrary to popular belief, the book sale isn’t filled with discarded library books (though there are a few of those for sale), but by donations from the community and patrons. Most of the books you can buy are still in new condition; others are more well-loved, but the majority appear as if they’ve been read only once before, if at all. So with the quality so good, and the prices so cheap, it’s definitely first come, first serve – a lot of the newer, more popular and in-demand books were gone the first hour of the first day the sale was open to the public. Nonetheless, I managed to snag some great reads for my personal collection at home. Most of them pertain in some way to British history or literature, one of my favorite subjects (as you’d expect to hear from someone who minored in British Studies!).

Fiction:

The Quick / Lauren Owen

Ripper / Stefan Petrucha

The Angel’s Game / Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Dracula Dossier: A Novel of Suspense / James Reese

London / Edward Rutherford

Macbeth / Jo Nesbo

Gone Girl / Gillian Flynn

Myst: The Book of D’ni / David Wingrove, Rand Miller

Myst: The Book of Ti’ana / David Wingrove, Rand Miller, Robyn Miller

Nonfiction:

The Library Book / Susan Orlean

Eleanor of Aquitaine / Alison Weir

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography / Marion Meade

Losing Our Heads: Beheadings in Literature and Culture / Regina Janes

Beautiful Death: the Art of the Cemetery / David Robinson

Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-4 / Bryan Burrough

Juvenile / Young Adult Fiction:

Leviathan / Scott Westerfeld

Dear America: Dreams in the Golden Country / Kathryn Lasky

Redwall / Brian Jacques

Poetry / Drama:

Beowulf and Judith / Richard M. Trask

Hamlet / William Shakespeare