Queer representation in young adult fiction is hugely important; I know I would have cottoned onto the whole panromantic asexual gig earlier if I’d known it was an option. So today we’re going to look at two young adult novels examining two underrepresented groups when it comes to queer youth in fiction—young butch women and transmen.
Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters
Every day in Coalton is pretty much the same. Mike pumps iron in the morning, drives her truck to school, plays softball in the afternoon, and fixes the neighbor’s plumbing at night. Maybe on a big day she stops by the Dairy Delite. But when an exotic new girl, Xanadu, arrives in the small Kansas town, Mike’s world is turned upside down. Xanadu is everything Mike is not-cool, complicated, sexy, and . . . straight. Mike falls desperately in love with her, and at first Xanadu seems surprisingly receptive. Can a gay person love a straight person? And will the love be returned? Or are there physical and emotional distances that can never-and should never-be crossed? This heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful novel will speak to anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone just out of reach.
In writing an English paper for class, I declared that there were no young adult novels featuring young butch lesbians; the universe immediately corrected me, when Malinda Lo recommended Far from Xanadu on Tor.com’s occasional feature about queer content in speculative fiction. I’m delighted to be wrong, of course, and Far From Xanadu touches on something that everyone has to deal with—loving someone who can’t love you back. Incidentally, Far From Xanadu was recently rereleased as Pretend You Love Me, but I like this title better, and it’ll probably be the edition I pick up.
The Bibliovore over at Confessions of a Bibliovore enjoyed it, especially that Mike’s sexuality wasn’t an issue in the way other authors might build entire novels around. Stephanie at Open Mind, Insert Book enjoyed how well-rounded Mike was, as well as the rest of the book.
Far From Xanadu was published on May 4th, 2005, and will be rereleased as Pretend You Love Me next Tuesday. (Although it’s already available on Amazon. I don’t know.)
I am J by Cris Beam
J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he’d been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn’t muster a hello back, not now; he didn’t care that she’d tell his mom he’d been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.
J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible – from his family, from his friends…from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he’s done hiding – it’s time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.
An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.
I’m pitifully read when it comes to trans characters—all I can think of is Pussy from Breakfast on Pluto, and I much preferred her in the film adaptation (where she goes by Kitten). And I haven’t read anything at all about teenage trans characters, so I am J sounds like a good place to start, as it deals with not only a young transman but a young transman of color.
Angela at Bookish Blather enjoyed it, especially how J’s conflicts arise not from him questioning his gender but the conflict between who he is and who the world sees him as. It also comes recommended by Miriam of Feministing, which is often all the impetus I need.
I am J was published on March 1st.