Representation matters, and everyone wants to be a hero. Unfortunately, what we LGBTQ+ folks get more often are queer villains, queer-coded villains, or anti-heroes. At least, they’re the most famous ones: pretty much every Disney villain ever, Loki, Constantine. The predominance of these types of characters and the lack of LGBTQ+ “good guy” superheroes creates the image of queerness as being tied to wickedness, threat to society, and general “otherness”. This influences both the way the general society sees LGBTQ+ people and how LGBTQ+ folks see ourselves, especially young people struggling with their identities. It creates a certain narrative for us, implying that we can only fit a certain type of mold and that it always sets us apart and makes us a threat. And that sucks.
I love a rugged jerk with a heart of gold as much as anyone, but Constantine’s morals and ethics leave something to be desired.
However, I’m not saying all queer characters need to be “good guys”. It’s just that a balance is needed to avoid forcing the idea that queer equals bad. Therefore it’s important to have more LGBTQ+ heroes and “good guys” who are people others follow and look up to (I’m not saying bisexual Steve Rogers, but I’m totally thinking bisexual Steve Rogers). We need to see that we can be great heroes and that we can have all kinds of different stories be about us.
Ever since I read Ash, Malinda Lo’s lesbian retelling of Cinderella, I’ve been a fan of both her writing style and her dedication to including queer narratives in her books. So when I found myself with a Barnes and Noble gift card, I seized the moment and picked up Adaptation, the first in her most recent series.
Our story begins with a 9/11-like incident, in which planes all across the US are simultaneously destroyed in-flight by errant birdstrikes. Planes are grounded as the panicked citizenry try to figure out what happened, and so protagonist Reese and her debate partner David Li, out of state for the national competition, end up trying to drive home. However, a brutal car crash outside a top secret facility in the Nevadan desert leaves them hospitalized inside said facility, and the procedures used to save their lives leave them with abilities no regular human should have.
Young adult literature is just about my favorite genre to read, but YA has a complicated relationship with diversity. Although the number of stories on the market celebrating people who don’t meet the white-straight-cis-abled norm is increasing, they are still a significant minority, and often don’t get the press or love that other books get. Book covers get whitewashed, and authors are still questioned about whether their minority characters are ‘realistic’ in their storylines. That’s where Diversity in YA comes in.
From DiYA’s tumblr:
Diversity in YA was founded in 2011 by YA authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo as a website and book tour. While the tour is over, we’ve revived the website as a tumblr! We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. We hope you’ll enjoy celebrating them with us.
Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon are excellent and talented writers in their own right and their stories are filled with diverse and interesting characters. It’s great to see that they’re also taking the initiative to celebrate other stories like their own.
The DiYA tumblr features a variety of content. Sometimes they recommend upcoming books that feature diverse characters. Sometimes they have interviews with authors who are of color or are GSM or disabled, or whose stories include such characters. And sometimes they just moderate discussions about topics like “Dismantling White as the Default” and “Beyond Diversity 101: On Bisexual Characters and YA Literature”, just to list two examples. They are pretty new on tumblr, as their description points out—they’ve only got about fifteen pages of content so far—but they’ve recommended dozens of books that I would probably have otherwise not heard about, and they are contributing to an important discussion in the literary world just by existing at all. Give their tumblr a look-see and let me know if you try any of the books they’ve featured!