Luke Aday knew that his sister’s death was imminent—she had been under hospice care for months—but that didn’t make her death any easier on him or their family. He returns to school three days after the funeral to a changed world; his best friends welcome him back with open arms, but it isn’t the same. But when a charismatic new student, Eddie Sankawulo, tries to welcome Luke to his own school, something life-changing happens: In a moment of frustration, Luke runs into an empty classroom, hurls his backpack against the wall—and the backpack never lands. Luke Aday has just discovered that he can stop time.
The first time it happened, I thought the conversation was a fluke. I was at a backyard party, loose after hours talking, eating, and laughing with people I had known for years. I was happy and relaxed, so I told someone I was writing a book. “It’s LGBTQ YA,” I said quietly, and my voice actually shook.
I didn’t think that happened in real life.
The fear, to be clear, had nothing to do with queerness or writing for young adults; these facts remain points of unproblematic pride. I love writing queer YA for myself, for teen readers, and for the teen reader I used to be. I wasn’t freaked out about the subject matter or the audience; it was the investment in creative writing. For years, I hardly talked about what I, euphemistically, called, “my hobby.” Some of my closest friends didn’t know that I wrote outside of work until I—probably too casually—mentioned that I had a novel coming out in a matter of months. It’s not an ideal publicity model, but it’s all I have.
For a long time, I wasn’t ready to be a writer-in-public. I didn’t know how to answer well-meaning questions about my work when I could hardly push past the imposter syndrome to write it in the first place. I didn’t want to answer questions at all, and maybe that’s why I was unprepared for that first day.
When I shared, I didn’t get questions; I got answers.
More than that, I got stories.
When I told that first friend what Hold was about— grief, queer community, and identity— she lit up and told me about her three-year journey of coming to identify as a bisexual woman. This is a person I have known for more than six years. We are circle-of-trust level close and I had no idea, not because either one of us felt uncomfortable talking about sexuality, but because, as she put it, “it just didn’t come up.”
I’d like to say that we had a deep and nuanced conversation about the nature of bisexual invisibility, but we mostly spent an hour grinning at each other and flailing about all the things we didn’t know we had in common. Then we traded AO3 accounts. It was delightful and I thought of the day as a marvelous accident, until it happened again, and then again. At this point, I’ve stopped counting the number of times that a friend or acquaintance responded to learning about the book with some version of, “Oh my God, you too?” and then the inevitable, “Wait, you didn’t already know about me?”
No. I didn’t know, but writing Hold opened the door to those conversations and they were so excited to share.
Several friends in long-term relationships talked to me at length about identifying as bisexual, pansexual, or queer, and how they knew some people assumed they were gay, lesbian, or straight. They responded to bisexual characters in the book but also to me as a bi author. Readers of early drafts of Hold also talked to me about their own asexuality, PTSD, and the intersections between disability and race in their lives. For one reader, a note about pacing turned into paragraphs in the margins about the stigma around mental illness, so we dropped the book talk and traded life stories long after we should have gone to bed.
Conversations about Hold became the gift that wouldn’t stop giving, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in most cases the lack of disclosure had nothing to do with shame or fear. Instead, I heard over and over than it had simply never “felt like the right time.” Most of the people who spoke to me were happy to talk about their identities, but that didn’t mean they knew how to start the conversation. One friend said she felt “exhausted” at the thought of fighting expectations just to exist in public.
I nodded. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there.
Bringing up the book created an opportunity, nothing more and nothing less. It created a space for recognition that my friends didn’t have to make for themselves, and I love the fact that the specific book is, essentially, beside the point. I could talk about how much I love Not Your Sidekick or Radical or Labyrinth Lost. I could gush about someone else’s review of an LGBTQ book or talk about the guidelines on Disability in Kidlit, and I’d still offer one more chance for someone to be seen. As authors, bloggers, and readers, we constantly create opportunities for recognition. A book creates an opportunity for a blogger, who creates an opportunity for another author or reader, and the conversations multiply. This is our gift, our superpower. We hold up the stories we love and give someone the chance to say, “Really? Me too.”
Rachel Davidson Leigh is a teacher, a writer and an avid fan of young adult LGBTQ fiction. Her hobbies include overanalyzing television shows and playing matchmaker with book recommendations. Currently, she lives in Wisconsin with her family and two neurotic little dogs. Hold is her debut novel. Her short story “Beautiful Monsters” was featured in Summer Love, a collection of short stories published by Duet Books, the young adult imprint of Interlude Press.
Hold will be published by Duet Books on October 20, 2016. Connect with author Rachel Davidson Leigh at racheldavidsonleigh.com; on Twitter @rdavidsonleigh; and on Facebook at facebook.com/rdavidsonleigh/
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