Because all of life is stories.
As a cisgendered white guy I get to see myself in fiction. A lot of fiction. Pretty much all of the freaking fiction. And I love that. But it gives me something of a skewed perspective when people talk about how books from different viewpoints make them feel seen. You grow desensitized to it when it’s everywhere. The shock of it happening and the emotional release that comes with representation is something that people like me, I feel, find it hard to understand sometimes.
Seeing your life, your experiences, your unique perspective of existence represented in fiction is so important. I love so much that more and more diverse writers are claiming bigger and bigger audiences, publishing deals, and and voices. They’re incredible storytellers and we all benefit from their having seats at the table.
This goes doubly for kids. Especially kids starting to go through difficult periods in their lives, questioning things, wondering about things, and feeling things for the first time that they don’t yet have words for. Especially the strange and terrifying minefield that can be gender identity and sexuality.
So imagine being an seven to twelve year old, and everyone around school is starting to talk about crushes, and yours are…different. And you aren’t sure why. Or if that means something bad. Or what exactly to make of any of it. And you go to the library, and you come across a book with a character that is going through the exact same thing. Imagine how exciting that would be. Or imagine the relief that someone, ANYONE else out there understands. And you read a book and start to think that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t a freak. That you’ll be ok and perfect just the way you are.
I’ve been reading a lot more queer positive books over the last year, in large part on recommendations from my absolutely wonderful friends and co-workers, and I wanted to pass a few of my new favorites along. I hope you find something you enjoy.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Star-Crossed is the story of a young girl who slowly starts to realize she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet in their class play. When Romeo drops out and Mattie is thrust into the role, her feelings and anxieties are brought sharply into focus.
Mattie spends a lot of the book hiding her feelings from her friends and family, and it puts her in a less than great mental state. When she is called out on it, and let’s people in, she grows and learns to describe what it is she’s feeling. She isn’t made to come out to anyone, but a friend does realize what’s happening and lend her support. Star-Crossed is fluffy and cute, and makes you want to give all of these kids a supportive hug. That the book actually uses the word ‘bisexual’ in print to describe how Mattie feels is really amazing for a middle grade novel.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
Ivy Aberdeen follows a lot of the same beats as Star-Crossed, but definitely has a little more serious of a tone. Ivy is an artist, and from the beginning of the book has secrets and worries that she puts down on the page in vibrant color. Dealing with the loss of her home to a natural disaster, her family dynamic changing after her mom gives birth to twins, and questions of her own sexuality is more than enough for anyone to deal with. But when her journal is lost and someone starts sending her notes telling her they know her secret, Ivy’s anxiety is turned up several notches.
From dealing with the fear of rejection of family and friends to finding out what it’s like when your crush isn’t a mutual one, Ivy Aberdeen is great role model for any young kid who is worrying about all those same things.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
I have so many feelings for this book. What starts out as a fairly standard portal fantasy about a boy transported to a magical land is quickly turned on its head as Brennan takes everything that you know about fantasy tropes and turns it all against your expectations to remarkable effect.
The boy I was convinced was going to be the annoying golden child I would spend the whole book hating? He’s a kind and loving cinnamon roll with problems fitting in, despite his heritage. Elf society is a powerful matriarchy that reflects all the weirdest and dumbest parts of our own patriarchy back on us in reverse. The protagonist refuses to learn to fight and is super into diplomacy. No taking glory at the end of a sword for Elliot. Speaking of Elliot, he’s an idiot. He’s mean and cruel to people who want to be his friend and before you fall in love with him you’ll spend some time hating him.
Watching Elliot explore his bisexuality while learning what it means to be a good friend and good person was heartwarming and refreshing experience in a landscape of books where things can tend to go grim early and stay there for a good long while.
There are dozens upon dozens of great LGBTQIA+ books for people of all ages. I’ve only given brief windows into a few that I read last year. If you’re looking for perspective on something you don’t understand and want to, you can start with these. If you’re looking for a voice that gets what you’re going through, you can start here too.
So many of my friends have expressed to me how much they would have loved to have books like these when they were growing up and questioning. I see the love for them on social media. And I see people walk into my store and leave with new books, so happy that finally, for once, they are seen.