Gay and lesbian teen relationships are fast becoming “a natural and normal part of fiction” and publishers are seeing more submissions of books with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) themes.
Amber Caravéo, editorial director at Orion Children’s Books, said she had “definitely seen more of these books” submitted in the past 18 months.
In March, Orion’s YA imprint Indigo is publishing Far From You by Tess Sharpe, a thriller with a lesbian love story at its heart. But Caravéo stressed gay relationships are never the focal point of a book, but rather part of the story: “In the UK it’s not a controversial issue, it’s a question of, ‘here’s something that resonates with teens’ rather than ‘we must tackle the issue of,’” she said. “With Far From You I was struck by the dual elements. It’s a thriller but also a beautiful tale of two girls and their relationship.”
Sarah Odedina, m.d. at Hot Key Books, said that at one time gay characters might have been the focus of “issue” books, but being gay is now just part of the story. “Our philosophy is that all characters, whatever their sexual preferences, class or race, are natural to have in our books,” she said. “We are very inclusive in the books we acquire because [sexuality] is a natural and normal part of life, so it should be a natural and normal part of fiction.”
Penguin this month acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for a YA contemporary romance about two teenage boys falling in love, Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by début author Becky Albertalli. Francesca Dow, m.d. of Penguin Children’s, was “mindful” of publishing books with diverse characters, but with great stories and writing still paramount. “In Simon . . . we have both,” she said.
Other books with LGBT themes to be published this year or early in 2015 include A Kiss in the Dark by Cat Clarke (Quercus), The Young World by Chris Weitz and Unspeakable by Abbey Rushton (both Atom).
However, Erica Gillingham, who was on the Equal Measures: Achieving Diversity and Equality in Children’s Books panel at last year’s LBF, said the UK was lagging behind the US in terms of what it published. Last year 94 LGBT YA novels were published in the US, while the UK released only eight, she said.
Many of the authors of LGBT YA novels published in the UK are in fact American, including Sharpe. This year Electric Monkey is publishing Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith and two titles by David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing and Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List. Levithan and Smith are both American.
Levithan said US authors have had a head start, “not just in terms of LGBT YA, but in terms of all realistic contemporary YA”.
Smith suggested that the US publishes more in this area because of how close-minded American society can be.
“There are an awful lot of kids out there who feel the sting of organised campaigns that target them as being abnormal and unworthy of fair treatment,” he said.
For Gillingham, both the US and the UK need to expand beyond gay and lesbian to include more transgender and bisexual characters. “Also most of the characters are white and from middle-class backgrounds, we are not really seeing diversity in terms of class or race.”
Levithan agreed that the industry needed to make sure “it isn’t all white guys telling the story”, but said the desire and talent were abundantly there. “Publishers are, with very few exceptions, entirely unhesitant to publish LGBT books for teens,” he said. “And readers welcome them widely and openly.”