Queer-friendly YA?

Mary Anne and I were talking about stuff involving queer characters in YA books, and we had a question we weren't sure of the answer to. Here's my version of that question:

Do y'all know of YA fantasy or science fiction books that meet the following criteria?

  • Protagonist has a same-sex romantic and/or sexual relationship.
  • Plot is not primarily focused on romance or on coming-out issues or on the travails of being LGBT.
  • Book is commercially successful.

I haven't read nearly enough YA to have any idea whether that sort of thing is commercially viable. I know that there are some successful YA sf books that have prominent LGBT characters (I gather that's true of Holly Black's Faerie books and Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books, for example, though I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't read any of either series), but what about the actual protagonist of the book?

8 Responses to “Queer-friendly YA?”

  1. John Scalzi

    Melinda Lo’s YA novel Ash has a lesbian protagonist.

  2. Julia Rios

    Yep, I was going to give the same answer as Scalzi. I can’t think offhand of any others with all those checks, but if you find more, I’d love to know about them.

  3. Vardibidian

    I was going to say that I hadn’t read any books that meet your three criteria—and further that I would be surprised if there were very many books that did meet the criteria without my having heard of them. But then following Mr. Scalzi’s link, I find that Ms. Lo has written essays on that very topic (well, closely overlapping topics) and that has led me to some titles that I am eager to read, particularly the Triskelia Series, by Carrie Mac, which may not actually meet your criteria but looks really interesting anyway.

    I still think that there probably aren’t all that many commercially successful YASF books that have GLBT protagonists and don’t primarily focus on the travails aforementioned, just because of the settings of the most commercial YASF books and the necessity for dealing with coming-out or homophobia in phony-medieval or current middle school settings. It’s clearly possible, but I haven’t seen it myself.

    And my other, more snarky comment, is that there are lots of YASF books that don’t have any romance in them at all where it is clear to me that the main character is gay. But I don’t think that’s what you are looking for, is it?


  4. Jed

    Twig reminds me to mention the Valdemar books, which Mary Anne had brought up during our discussion but I forgot to include in this entry.

  5. Jed

    Julia: Will do; and lemme know if you think of any others.

    V: Thanks for the mention of Triskelia! It looks like the queer characters in that trilogy are secondary characters rather than protagonists, but I can’t tell for sure; and sounds interesting regardless.

    just because of the settings of the most commercial YASF books and the necessity for dealing with coming-out or homophobia in phony-medieval or current middle school settings

    I can see your point re current middle school settings (though I’m seeing a fair number of out-and-proud queer high school students in modern movies and TV), but a lot of sf is set in secondary worlds, and there’s no particular reason those should be as homophobic as the real world. Even faux-medieval worlds are generally distortions and idealizations of real historical settings; if you’re adding magic and dragons and modern American sensibilities, why not make homosexuality a normal and accepted part of your fictional society?

    where it is clear to me that the main character is gay

    I wasn’t quite sure how to read that—do you mean the character is coded as gay by the author, or do you mean you’re reading into it, or both, or something else?

    One of the things M and I were discussing is that for a long time, characters in mainstream adult fiction (and movies, of course) were coded as gay in such a way that an audience who knew what to look for would recognize the gayness, but the mainstream audience wouldn’t. I imagine there’s a fair bit of that in YA fiction, too, but I’m hoping that these days isn’t necessary to keep all the queer characters closeted from the reader in order to be commercially successful.

  6. Vardibidian

    Me reading into it, mostly. In the Tripods series (by John Christopher), the relationships amongst the boys make much more sense if there is romantic tension between them, and attendant jealousy. I don’t claim that it was coded that way by the author, but that’s how I think of it.

    To the extent that there’s a point, it’s that–in books where sex and romance do not enter in to it, we often tend to make the assumption that the character is straight (as we do whiteness when race doesn’t enter in to it), but there isn’t that necessity. Reynie Muldoon might be straight, but I don’t think there’s a great deal of evidence for it. Are the Snarkout Boys straight? What is the sexual orientation of the protagonist of Un Lun Dun?

    However, none of those meet your criteria number one, and I don’t want to divert the thread away from the useful place it had started. So I won’t start talking about The Wizard of Oz.


  7. textjunkie

    Sorry, know lots of adult stuff but not the YA stuff. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion I have read something where the young boys were gay and it was so normal I didn’t code the book as being about such things… There were some Victorian vampire short stories which were openly girl-girl if not actually lesbian, would that count?


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