For the first time in over 15 years, I signed up for a library card. I will admit it was a little intimidating. After venturing through the shelves, I found a quiet corner to begin exploring the online catalog. Normally when I visit a bookstore, my first instinct is to locate the LGBTQ section. This trip to the library was no different.
As I began looking over my search results, I was overcome with so much joy at the sheer amount of LGBTQ young adult (or YA) books that populated my list. When I was younger, going to a bookstore or library was a treasure hunt to find something within my age group I could relate to and ordering from the internet was a scary option at the time. The books were out there, just not accessible.
The world is a pretty scary place right now. Hate crimes seem to be on the rise and for a kid trying to figure themselves out, it can seem safer just to hide anything that makes you different. Now more than ever, children and teenagers need to see that they are valid. The accessibility of LGBTQ books to the YA community is crucial.
I am well past being considered a part of the YA community, but being able to pick up one of these books off the shelf and read a story about a young adult discovering themselves and learning that they belong makes me hopeful. I didn’t have that growing up, but the next generation of teens perusing the library does.
One of the very first LGBTQ books I discovered as a kid was Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden. Originally published in 1982, this was one of the books I was able to slyly get my father to order online with little to no questions as to why (this book also prompted me to read Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller, which was way beyond my age group at the time).
I sat down at my father’s kitchen table to start reading and did not get up again until I was finished in the wee hours of the morning. It was a revelation! Here was a book with characters going through the same emotional struggles I was. Not everything was sunshine and roses, however. The characters, like many of us, went through hardships and had to deal with the thing I dreaded most: being discovered before I was ready. It was scary, but at the same time, empowering. This one book became my safe haven. It was reassurance that I wasn’t alone-that it would get better.
While Annie will always have a special place for me, there are so many more books out there to inspire teens. Such titles as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Geography Club by Brent Hartinger can be the difference between a life fully lived or one full of regret.
While having books that mirror a teen’s life of struggle and triumph are important, one of the things I wanted more than anything as a kid were the fantasies and fairytales. From the days our parents are reading stories to us before bed, children are hearing about the princes that save the princess, adventures across distant lands and superheroes that save the day. Young adult authors like Malinda Lo dare to break the mold with amazing stories that show us there’s another kind of fairytale. Lo’s debut novel, Ash, is an LGBTQ retelling of the classic story of Cinderella with a twist. What a tremendous feeling! What kid or teen doesn’t want a story of a superhero (or sidekick) they have something in common with like C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick.
While times have changed since I was firmly grounded in the YA community, it’s not perfect. These books and a plethora of many others are just the start. Public and school libraries have an obligation to fill their shelves with titles that make their youth feel safe and understood. One book in the hands of a confused teen can make all the difference.
Featured image credit: Alisha Kelley/Geek Gals