Recommendations for YA Fiction from Jennifer Lavoie

On Monday, a blog reader commented “Any chance you and your co-buds and readers could come up with a list of books appropriate for middle school girls coming out? Possible blog topic?” Now, it may come as a shock to y’all, but I know NOTHING about YA literature. So, I called in an expert.

Jennifer Lavoie is a YA author and she also teaches middle school. Who better to address this question? If you want to learn more about Jennifer (and you should), check out her website HERE, and you can check out her books HERE.

***

As a middle school teacher, I know how difficult it can be to get students to enjoy reading. I also know how important it is for them to find that one book they connect with that makes them lifelong readers. I consider it a personal challenge whenever I get a new student and he or she tells me on the first day those three little words every language arts teacher fears: I hate reading.

Aside from the sheer joy of books taking kids to places they’ve never been able to go, books also teach about character. Sometimes fiction teaches them more than any teacher ever could, like when they discover a character that is just like them.

During their middle school years, which, depending on where you are in the States, can range from grades five through nine, kids need to find characters they can connect with. I think this is especially true for LGBT students who may just be discovering who they are. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in a school with many students who were open about their sexuality, and I’ve also worked in one where few students – if any – came out. It’s the job of a teacher to provide for any and all students he or she may encounter, and as such I make sure I keep a full stock of LGBT YA fiction in my classroom.

It’s hard, though. Teaching seventh and eighth graders, I see that they can be wise beyond their years in some things, but also immature in other areas. And finding good, appropriate books with lesbian characters for middle school girls just coming out can sometimes be a daunting task. But it’s not impossible. It just takes a little research and soon enough you’ll have a decent stack to start with. I’ve included a list of books that I love and have been tested by my students. Some might be for more mature middle schoolers, and some for younger. I should also note that this is far from a complete list of books with lesbian characters. Many are for older teens, and some are just at that borderline age of appropriate/not appropriate for my students.

If you’re concerned about the content of a book, as I recommend to all parents, read it first. Then after you give it to your child, have them talk to you if they have any questions. That act of questioning leads our kids to be stronger readers and more sympathetic citizens in the long run, and it will bring you closer to the child you recommended the book to. And hey, isn’t talking about books one of the best things in the world?

1. The YOU KNOW WHO Girls: Freshman Year by Annameekee Hesik, published by Bold Strokes Books

The Blurb: Abbey Brooks, Gila High freshman-to-be, never thought a hellish day of shopping at the mall with her best friend, Kate, could change her life. But when she orders French fries from the flirtatious Hot Dog on a Stick Chick, she gets more than deep-fried potatoes. Abbey tries to ignore the weird, happy feeling in her gut, but that proves to be as impossible as avoiding the very insistent (and—rumor has it—very lesbian) players on Gila High’s girls’ basketball team. They want freakishly long-legged Abbey to try out, and Abbey doesn’t hate the idea. But Kate made Abbey pinky swear to avoid basketball and to keep away from the you-know-who girls on the team.
Sometimes promises can’t be kept. And sometimes girls in uniform are impossible to resist

The Why: Even though the book takes place in a high school, Abbey is only a freshman. As I teach eighth grade, this book is a good transition for students. It’s not over the top and students have never had a problem handling anything in the story. If anything, the girls can connect to Abbey, especially as they reach the end of their eighth grade year, because she’s so close in age to them.

2. Ash by Malinda Lo, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Blurb: In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

The Why: This is Cinderella retold with a lesbian relationship. What could be better than taking one of the most recognizable fairy tales in the world and rewriting it to be LGBT-inclusive? My girls adore this book. What makes it so amazing is that readers discover Ash’s feelings as they read the book. I’ve seen so many faces light up when they realize this is not just another Cinderella story, but one they can relate to because there is no Prince Charming. And because it’s such a common tale, once discovered, friends share it with each other, regardless of sexuality!

3. Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

The Blurb: Karina has plenty to worry about on the last day of seventh grade: finding three Ds and a C on her report card again, getting laughed at by everyone again, being sent to the principal—again. But she’s too busy dodging the fists of her stepfather and looking out for her sisters to deal with school. This is the story of a young girl coming of age amidst the violent waters that run just beneath the surface of suburbia—a story that has the courage to ask: How far will you go to protect the ones you love?

The Why: Honestly, I didn’t even know this book had a lesbian character when I first picked it up, but I’m glad I did. There is so much to this book, and it was a National Book Award finalist. Karina deals with so many issues that pretty much any girl can relate, regardless of sexuality. She is a first generation American with a family from Haiti, she has an abusive stepfather, she is doing poorly in school, and she discovers she likes girls, especially Rachael. Of all my books, I think this one is the most surprising in complexity while still staying in the realm of middle school fiction. That’s not to say older teens won’t love it, though!

4. Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko, published by Academy Chicago Publishers

The Blurb: Lizzy McMann is a feisty twelve-year-old who lives with her mother and Manny, her father (she thinks), in a fleabag hotel. One night, Manny’s sudden announcement that he wants a divorce causes mother and daughter to move to upstate New York to live with Lizzy’s grandmother—a mixed blessing. At school, Lizzy befriends, then falls in love with, Eva Singer, who is dyslexic, looks like Natalie Wood and lives right down the street. Like all girls her age, Lizzy has to deal with her first period, her first bra and her first boyfriend. But what scares her most is her love for Eva. She is also concerned with getting a new husband for Mama—especially after reading Mama’s letters in the attic. Then Eva gets a boyfriend and Mama’s life enters what seems to be a new crisis. How Lizzy comes to grips with life’s strange twists and turns makes for fascinating reading.

The Why: As much as we want to keep our kids for as innocent as long as possible, and think they don’t know about certain things, unfortunately that isn’t always the case. In this book, Lizzy becomes a mother to her own mother while still going through what most young girls go through at the young age of twelve. So many girls can relate to her because they’ve had similar experiences in their life: parenting a parent, moving in with a grandparent, divorce, not to mention puberty.

5. Swans & Klons by Nora Olsen, published by Bold Strokes Books

The Blurb: What does it take to survive in a world built on lies?

Sixteen-year-old Rubric loves her pampered life in the Academy dormitory. She’s dating Salmon Jo, a brilliant and unpredictable girl. In their all-female world, non-human slaves called Klons do all the work. But when Rubric and Salmon Jo break into the laboratory where human and Klon babies are grown in vats, they uncover a terrifying secret that tears their idyllic world apart.

Their friends won’t believe them, and their teachers won’t help them. The Doctors who rule Society want to silence Rubric and Salmon Jo. The two girls must flee for their lives. As they face the unthinkable, the only thing they have left to believe in is their love for each other.

The Why: Science fiction used to be a “boy” thing, but not anymore! Not only is this book filled with girls and a wonderful lesbian relationship, the two female protagonists are strong and excellent role models. When they discover something wrong with their world, they fight to fix it. Girls love Rubric and Salmon Jo and the rich, all-female society they live in.

6. Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence edited by Marion Dane Bauer, published by HarperTeen

The Blurb: Original stories by C. S. Adler, Marion Dane Bauer, Francesca Lia Block, Bruce Coville, Nancy Garden, James Cross Giblin, Ellen Howard, M. E. Kerr, Jonathan London, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Lesléa Newman, Cristina Salat, William Sleator, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jane Yolen
Each of these stories is original, each is by a noted author for young adults, and each honestly portrays its subject and theme–growing up gay or lesbian, or with gay or lesbian parents or friends.

The Why
: While not strictly a lesbian book, this book is a must for ALL LGBT students and allies. A wonderful collection of short stories that I think no parent, teacher, librarian, and student should go without reading. So many wonderful authors contribute short stories about growing up gay or lesbian, and there’s something for everyone in this book. It really is a must have for every collection, and even though this came out nineteen years ago, it’s still relevant today and frequently a jumping off place for students in my class looking for a book with LGBT characters.

12 thoughts on “Recommendations for YA Fiction from Jennifer Lavoie

  1. Jennifer, Jove, and Yvonne:

    Thank you ladies so much!!! This is EXACTLY the information I requested!!! The titles, and more specifically the “Why” sections are extremely helpful…Now, I’ll have fun shopping online tonight 🙂

    Impressive speed for your blog: I requested the information on Monday and it was already done by Wednesday! Wow! Add ‘magician’ to your resume!! ;0)

    Like

  2. Oh how I wish these books would have been available when I was a teen. Rubyfruit Jungle, while titillating, just does not cut it when you’re 16. LOL!

    Like

    1. I wish there was even more for the younger girls, but they can be hard to find. And some walk such a fine line with what I can provide to my students at that age level and what I can’t. That’s the ONE thing that makes me which I taught older kids!

      Like

  3. This is a very helpful list. Thank you to Jennifer for the thoughtful information and to Jove for providing the expert. Books with LGBTQ characters are not only important for the young people who may be questioning their own identities, but so that they can understand other students.

    Like

Comments are closed.