I confess to not being over young adult literature in any way, shape or form. Diablo Cody has me extra-nostalgic today (by way of Entertainment Weekly) for the young adult section at the public library.
In her column this week, Diablo sings the praises of Judy Blume and Blume’s female characters — their complications and contradictions; their small feminist subversions; their defiance; and their wonderful regularities. Like Cody, I loved those books, though I also didn’t start out with Blume’s more scandalous titles (for me, Freckle Juice came way before Forever), but I got there, eventually, and imbibed every word. It was then that I started combing the shelves for more literature that actually spoke to me.
I know I’m not alone in the talent I developed as a teenager for scouring my local YA literature section for the titles that screamed “gender-bender” or “even a little bit gay” — I was looking for reflections of my identity, or at least for something a little sexier than Superfudge. (No offense, Peter Hatcher. But you were a fourth-grade boy!)
That was how I discovered the spectacular works of Tamora Pierce, who is responsible for the fanciful world of Alanna of Trebond. The series features a female knight who dodges a gender-determined lifetime of sorcery school in exchange for knighthood, which is what she truly wants. She suits up and passes as a boy in the kingdom of Prince Jonathan, where she fights, adventures and studies. The gender ambiguity in the book was always compounded for me by the fact that Alanna and Jonathan eventually get together — and he seems totally unfazed by the fact that he mostly knows Alanna as Alan, the name she uses while passing for male!
It was also how I discovered Weetzie Bat, that teeny pink book by Francesca Lia Block, between whose covers was an incorrigible punk-rock fairy tale that got me through a good deal of eighth grade, mostly because of its rambunctious and outspoken girl characters and its plethora of gay boys. Not to mention Am I Blue, a book of short stories — a mix of sad, flamboyant and hopeful — about teenagers coming out to themselves and to others.
So it’s clear I’m now going to have to revisit my favorite gay-ish books of yore, and I need your suggestions to bolster my list. What were you scouring the shelves for as a teenager?