Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Diverse YA: gay romances for teens by David Levithan, John Green, Seth Rudetsky, Becky Albertalli & Nina LaCour

Popham Beach, Maine. After a week of cold and/or stormy weather, the sun has finally returned.

As much as I dislike labels, I hope this post helps teens find good age-appropriate books that reflect diverse experiences. I don't mean to imply that these contemporary YA novels are only for gay teens; a good story speaks to universal feelings and isn't circumscribed by gender identification. As a heterosexual woman, I enjoyed these realistic romantic comedies too. So many novels portray homosexuals as victims of hate crime so it was refreshing to see gay characters portrayed as ordinary teenagers in love, facing everyday challenges with a fair chance at a happy ending.

David Levithan is one of my favorite authors for his humorous tone, quirky characters and fun plots. Two Boys Kissing (2013) created waves with its cover photo and rave reviews. Some of the stories in his collection were sweet and innocent and others were racier, covering the wide breadth of the gay teen experience. In addition to writing books with gay protagonists, Levithan has co-authored several heterosexual teen romances with female authors, such as Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (2010). Follow the title links to my full reviews, posted earlier on my blog.

Levithan collaborated with another favorite author of mine, John Green, to write Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010) about two boys, one straight and the other closeted gay, who share the same name. They also have an openly gay friend in common who is starring in his autobiographical musical at school. My husband and I listened to the audio book in the car, laughing for miles. This book is best in audio format for hearing the soundtrack of the musical satire.

Following on this musical theater theme is My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan (2012) by Seth Rudetsky. His writing style is similar to Levithan's, but Rudetsky's experience on Broadway adds depth to the musical content. This delightful comedy features both gay and straight romances and enough gender identity plot twists to rival Shakespeare. In pursuit of popularity and his crush, a closeted gay boy poses as a straight girl's boyfriend.

I related to Rudetsky's novel on a personal level since my first boyfriend was gay. We were eleven and twelve-years-old so there wasn't anything sexual about our relationship, but it was my first kiss. He dated at least two other girls after me before coming out in high school. I remember feeling happy for him but confused. This novel helped me understand what might have been going through his head. By coincidence my first boyfriend was also involved in musical theater both then and now. He reminded me of Rudetsky's protagonist: funny, talented, smart and kind-hearted. This novel was diverse in more than one dimension. It was a nice change to read a YA novel with mostly Jewish characters that wasn't about the Holocaust. I want to read the sequel, The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek (2015) too.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was one of my favorite books from last year. The heterosexual author used her experience as a child psychologist to tell a typical coming out story in a true teenaged boy voice. Simon's secret gay romance is threatened when another boy finds their flirty emails and blackmails him. Simon struggles to protect the privacy of the other closeted boy, whose identity is unknown even to him. It's set in the suburbs of Atlanta with racially diverse secondary characters.

I raced through Albertalli's debut novel in one day, laughing at Simon's witty observations and eager to uncover the identity of his mystery love. My only criticism is that all the pop culture references will date this novel. Still, this is a marvelous book for gay teens and for readers of all ages. The parents were hilarious. This author clearly knows how to laugh at herself. You can read my full review in an earlier post about Diverse YA Romances.
Coming in June: After reading an excerpt in Buzz Books, I'm looking forward to You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour. Here's the publisher's blurb: "Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way. When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other -- and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more." This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship. I love the cover too.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I purchased Rudetsky's ebook from Amazon after searching for YA novels about musical theater since my work in progress features a high school musical. I bought Abertalli's, Ellis's, and Levithan's books and audiobook from indie bookstores. Buzz Books 2016: Young Adult Spring/Summer was provided by netgalley.


Anonymous said...

I've only read two of these so far, and, as a teacher, so appreciate the post. All readers deserve to see themselves in print AND to recognize that we all have so much more in common than not. The two of these that I have read (Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Simon and the Homosapiens Agenda) remind us of that so well.

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, thank you! You are indeed a wonderful teacher to acknowledge this truth. I love the two dads in your children's book, The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister too.

Bee said...

I've read all of these books except for Rudestsky's (and the new Levithan one, obviously). I think a well-done romance can truly have universal appeal for almost any open-minded reader. I think (hope) this generation of teens are much more 'open' to sexual orientations of all kinds.

A Cuban In London said...

Hello! Yes, I'm still here. :-) Thanks for asking.

Re gay romance, like rom-com and other labels, there's a lot of marketing involved. The book sounds good and I liked what you wrote about humour. Humour is so important.

You're right that I have disappeared for longer than usual but there is a reason for that. I have been training very hard for the Brighton marathon this weekend and whilst doing so I have been musing a lot over the dichotomy mind and body (for some mind vs body). I want to put those thoughts in writing and share them with my like-minded blog-friends. :-)

I shall be back in blogland in just over a week.

Regards to you and your family.

Greetings from London.

Amanda Summer said...

It seems an important sea change that YA novels about same sex relationships no longer have to have hate crimes as a key plot component. Wonderful reviews, thanks!

Rose said...

Good to see so much diversity in YA novels today! You're right--these books are for all readers. I can see them helping heterosexual readers understand better what some of their friends must be going through, and it's nice to see a more upbeat perspective on that experience. Every time I read your reviews, Sarah, I think what a wonderful resource you are to teachers and librarians.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Now that I'm not subbing in the middle school anymore, I miss seeing what the kids are reading. Enjoyed this information. Will keep my eyes open at the library.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, from what I've heard from teens, this is true. Gender is more of a fluid concept now.

ACiL, I'm relieved to hear that you are well. Best of luck with the marathon! So true about these labels being the product of marketing.

Amanda, it is a good change.

Rose, you are right about the importance of fiction helping us see the world from other perspectives. Thank you. I do hope my reviews are useful in the classroom and libraries. I often get emails from students working on class projects.

MR, glad to hear this. I'm looking forward to hearing your reaction.