*waves from where she’s offline for yet another Jewish holiday and wishes these authors a very happy book birthday week in absentia!* *yes, it’s a day early to be posting this, but that’s because we’ve got great guest posts for a couple of these books going up over the next two days!*
A year ago, Rem Braithwaite watched his classmate Franklin Kettle commit a horrific crime.
Now, apart from the nightmares, life has gone back to normal for Rem. Franklin was caught, convicted, and put away in juvenile detention for what he did. The ordeal seems to be over.
Until Rem’s mother selects Franklin as a test subject for an experimental brain procedure intended to “cure” him of his cruel and violent impulses. Suddenly Rem’s memories of that day start coming back to the surface. His nightmares become worse than ever. Plus he has serious doubts about whether his mother’s procedure will even work. Can evil really just be turned off?
Then, as part of Franklin’s follow-up testing, he and Rem are brought face to face, and Rem discovers…Franklin does seem different. Despite everything, Rem finds himself becoming friends with Franklin. Maybe even something more than friends.
But when another of their classmates turns up dead, Rem’s world turns upside-down yet again. Franklin insists that he’s innocent, that he’s cured, but Rem doesn’t know what to believe. Is someone else responsible for this new murder, or is Franklin fated to stay a monster forever? And can Rem find out the answer to this question before the killer, whoever it is, comes after him too?
Being “The Sampler” isn’t easy. As the weakest member of the Extrahuman Union, Jill is overlooked by just about everyone. After all, no one cares about an Extrahuman who possesses every possible superpower, but can barely use any of them. Jill is a nobody, on the run and out of a job, with no home and barely any friends to her name.
To make ends meet, Jill turns back to one of her favorite jobs: stealing. When her latest job goes terribly wrong, Jill is left with a mysterious alien artifact–one that starts whispers to her, unlocks impossible powers, and shows her incredible things.
Now Jill is on a quest for answers that will take her from the high mountains of Valen to the depths of interstellar space; from a bizarre prison planet where old friends and enemies are held captive, to the roots of St. Val’s mysterious letters and decade-spanning plans. The fate of her friends, her world, a vanished alien species, and the entire Confederation will rest on Jill’s shoulders.
Extrahumans is a tale of superpowers and long-forgotten mysteries, and the fourth and final book in the critically acclaimed Extrahuman Union series
It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.
But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.
As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.
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.
Every time I’m crouched in front of my bookshelf, and my eye wanders over that gloriously Aussie eighties title, What are Ya?, I wonder how many queer teen reading lives Jenny Pausacker saved. I unearthed this book in a second-hand bookshop sometime in the late nineties. I’ll admit I bought it more for the fabulously kitsch value of its cover art than anything. And after finishing it, I had to agree with the reviewer on Goodreads who claims it reads like an episode of Heartbreak High (a nineties Aussie teen drama). But it’s not the book’s literary merit that makes this book important. It’s the fact that a YA book featuring a lesbian as one of the main characters existed at all in 1987. A prolific author and YA stalwart, Pausacker claims to be Australia’s first openly gay YA writer. And she was certainly one of only a tiny handful of Australian writers bringing queer YA characters to life through the eighties and early nineties.
A dearth of LGBTQIA YA in Australia thirty years ago is unsurprising in itself. Especially in a country that’s still dithering on marriage equality. What’s more surprising is the fact that it’s really only begun to get better very recently.
If I wanted to pinpoint the moment when I think the tide first started to (very) slowly turn for Aussie LGBTQIA YA, it was the second half of the nineties. Because any archeo-literary dig for signs of guilt about a lack of diverse literary representation in Australia almost always end with a good old-fashioned short story anthology. It’s almost as if publishers suddenly realise, “We don’t have enough [insert minority here] voices! How socially irresponsible. Quick—an anthology!” Then they flood the gap with short stories. In the late nineties not one but two LGBTQIA collections featuring short stories for young adult readers appeared. This was accompanied by about 9 or 10 novels (a bunch of them written by Pausacker) published in the period. Slowly LGBTQIA teens were being allowed to see themselves in printed existence.
Young adult fiction is popular in Australia. New titles are released every week by major publishing houses. The LoveOzYA movement, a community of aficionados, bloggers and industry folk, vigorously supports emerging and established YA writers. Entire panels and afternoons are dedicated to the demographic at major literary festivals. And good LGBTQIA YA books appear to enjoy the same enthusiasm as the rest.
But until recently there haven’t been that many to celebrate. The creator of the AUSQueerYA list on Goodreads has unearthed at total of 91 LGBTQ YA books published in Australia between 1975 and 2016. While 91 is not an awful number, only a proportion of these book feature LGBTQ main characters. Others simply offer a queer minor cast member or those nebulous LGTBQIA “themes.” Of those 91 books, roughly two thirds were published in the last decade.
It’s really only the last few years that could be described as banner years for LGBTQIA content. Not just in terms of abundance (okay, abundance is erring towards hyperbole), but for visibility, too. Eli Glasman’s 2014 A Boy’s Own Manual to being a Proper Jew was widely reviewed in Australian publications, celebrated for its storyline centering on issues of faith and sexuality. Erin Gough’s The Flywheel, about a young lesbian trying to save her father’s café, won the the 2013 Ampersand prize for emerging writers. Will Kostakis’ highly successful 2016 novel, The Sidekicks, has recently been sold in the United States.
So what’s taken so long?
It’s hard to say, exactly. Whenever there’s a lack of representation of minorities in fiction, the first fingers tend to be pointed at publishers. For they are that tricky intersection where creativity meets economic imperative meets social responsibility. It’s like the good old ‘good, fast cheap—pick two’ project management triangle. Only with representation at stake. But is the notion that publishers are not progressive or willing to risk money on minority voices a reality? Or is it just a leftover from a recent, less liberal, past? It’s hard to know. But that apprehension does exist. For example, despite its eventual success The Flywheel author, Erin Gough, was doubtful about the future of her novel even while she was writing it.
“The Flywheel was for many years a fun personal project that I worked on without any real intention of publishing. I didn’t think it was the type of book anyone would publish, partly because of the main character’s sexuality,” she says.
Instead, Gough would be awarded an Australian Council emerging writer’s grant while working on the book. Then she would go on to win the publisher’s prize that would land her a book deal and place her vivid novel into the limelight.
Award-winning YA author, Fiona Wood believes she has seen evidence of a shift in publishing attitudes over the span of her career. “I have noticed things are much better in terms of representation, even compared to seven years ago, when I was looking for a publisher for Six Impossible Things,” she says. “I got a reader’s report back then, not from my eventual publisher, but from someone else I was talking to, and it actually said that Dan’s father being gay would affect school sales in Queensland, were the book ever to be published. I don’t think you’d hear anything like [that] these days.”
But the slow growth in this country may not just be about publishers. Gough suggests there a number of other, complex factors might have potentially inhibited an increase in Australian LGBTQIA YA, such as LGBTQIA writers’ initial need to be comfortable with their own sexuality (something she claims to have struggled with), the desire not to be pigeonholed as an LGBTQIA writer, gatekeeping by parents and librarians apprehensive to expose young readers to LGBTQIA voices, and a possible reluctance of straight writers to write from an LGBTQIA perspective, feeling they don’t have an authority to do so.
One Australian author who has experienced this last apprehension, but who also felt compelled for both personal and political reasons to plough on, is Jared Thomas. Thomas recently brought one of a few recent, sorely-needed, LGBTQIA YA novels featuring Indigenous main characters to the Australian YA landscape. Songs that Sound like Bloodtraces a year in the life of a young musician, Roxy May Redding. The novel, published by Magabala Books, an Indigenous publishing company, is a tumultuous and affirming coming-of-age story about being young, ambitious, Indigenous and queer.
“I was apprehensive about writing this story as a 40-year-old man,” Thomas admits. And to ensure he was doing his character and story justice, Thomas sought critique and support from LGBTQIA friends, family and colleagues. But despite these doubts, Thomas was compelled by a need to address what he sees as a very particular and “huge” gap in LGBTQIA YA fiction about Indigenous lives (as well as one in YA in general), one that had become far too crucial to ignore.
Thomas cites his concerns about the cuts in funding to services and programs, and high suicide rates among Indigenous youth as imperatives for him to provide rich, positive representation for (and of) young Aboriginal people.
“I started to think more about what it means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are also same-sex attracted and dealing with stigma associated with this on top of the more general racism and bigotry directed toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
This sense of a kind of double stigma is constructed as an inevitable part of Roxie’s life in Songs, when she says her support worker at uni, “I was paid out for being Aboriginal, and that was bad enough. I didn’t even realise I was gay.”
Both Woods and Gough have also had issue of the nature of LGBTQIA representation on their minds as they write. Woods books are purposefully peppered with a spectrum of queer characters, in a way that mirrors the contemporary cosmopolitan society her characters exist in. There are inner-suburban two-mum families. There are dads who come out late in life. There is the best friend who designates herself a “lesbian-in-waiting” because she can’t come out while living under the same roof as her strict, Vietnamese parents. In Woods’ novels LGBTQIA characters range from being the subject of a character’s passing thoughts to solid, finely-drawn characters. Either way, they are always there. This ubiquity is part of a conscious project on Woods’ part to promote the idea of “inclusive normality”. Something she says is done “very much in the spirit of ‘diversity = life’, as opposed to ‘diversity = issues’.”
For Erin Gough, the desire to increase LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA started first from personal experience. “I thought about how much I had needed to read such a story as an undergrad, and how I hadn’t been able to find one to read.” But Gough is not just seeking to fill a gap. She is also hoping to broaden the spectrum of representation in LGBTQIA storytelling, starting with a decision to make her main character aware and comfortable with her sexuality from the start of the book.
“I’m hopeful that we’re getting to the point where we can tell stories about LGBTQ characters that are not just ‘coming out’ stories,” she says. “The LGBTQ experience is far richer than that.”
There is certainly something reassuring in the way that these writers all consciously share an awareness of the need for LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA, but see different needs to be filled. It’s hard to know which project has more urgency: representing minority queer voices, normalising LGBTQIA through constant, no-big-deal representation, or broadening the scope of stories told about young LGBTQIA people.
That’s because the answer is all of the above.
Australian YA fiction needs lots of no-big-deal gay characters. We also need big-deal coming out stories. We need LGBTQIA representation for all minorities. We also need to up the representation of trans, queer, intersex and asexual experiences. Because from here on, diversity is not just about Australian YA needing more LGBTQIA content. That’s clearly starting to happen. Now young Australian readers need a rich palette of experiences from which to draw recognition and affirmation. An array of stories to find themselves in. And these books need to keep coming until there is a story that resonates for every single one of them.
Emily O’Beirne is an Australian writer of LGBTQIA young adult fiction. Here recent novels include Points of Departure and Here’s the Thing. Thirteen-year-old Emily woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). By the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables. Nowadays she (hopefully) writes better stories.