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Reaching out to LGBTQ Teens with Fiction

Ah, the pains of adult responsibilities and the gradual loss of my passion and dedication to issues that truly need advocacy.

At my undergraduate school, Monmouth College, I was engrossed in the activist scene (as much as a small town could provide). I was a leader of several organizations including Listen Up! (general promotion of life activism), Students for Environmental Awareness, a member of the People Respecting Individual Sexuality at Monmouth College, and I went on several Alternative Spring Break trips across the country. For one semester I studied Social Justice, Gender, and the Environment in Mexico. I love to advocate for the underprivileged and underrepresented, the people and issues that need a say in this world. I love to educate myself on issues that promote equality, democracy, and general good joo joo.

Now, envision my life in a tailspin. At least that’s what it feels like. Proximity to other passionate people and proximity to easily accessible activist opportunities has left me doing little to anything. Also, my mobile life for the past three years makes it hard to dedicate myself to a group. This is perhaps why I have taken to librarianship so readily. It’s the promotion of literacy and self-education, aiding all people equally, and interacting with the community where you live. I love everything about it.

I’m particularly drawn to working with young adults. Historically, they’ve been excluded from library service. Most libraries have at least added a separate collection for young adults, which is fab, but a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of outreach.

For my Reference class, I created a pathfinder (guide to different information sources for patrons) of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning (LGBTQ) protagonists in young adult fiction. LGBTQ teens begin to accept and/or question their own identity at this age. Furthermore, they start to become uncertain and fearful of the outcome in relation to the people around them. One way to explore these questions and accept their sexual identity is through the experiences of fictional characters.

So because I loooove lists, below you’ll find recommended reads (from my pathfinder) for recent (and one classic) literature that includes LGBTQ protagonists:

Sprout by Dale Peck (award winner)

Sprout. An interesting name for a kid. But don’t think this protagonist will tell you ‘Why Sprout?’ until he wants to.  With his cheeky, cynically poignant observations, Sprout’s not one to elaborate on his own life story.  When the advanced English teacher singles Sprout out as the next Kansas State Writing Champion, his subject material is anything but himself.  When Sprout reveals he’s gay (“Betcha didn’t see that coming, did ya?”) his teacher warns him against writing about it. While homosexuality does not define Sprout, he avoids disclosure because he fears that that’s all people will see him as.  He soon meets the boy of his dreams, someone who physically expresses but never vocalizes his attraction to Sprout.

This novel describes a character’s journey towards his identity, oftentimes hiding behind humor. Instead of a plot-driven, triumphant winning story, Sprout  gives the reader a journey with a nerdy teen into what “gay” means on a personal level.

  Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (award winner)

One of the first novels portraying a positive intimate relationship between two people of the same sex, Annie and Liza discover their sexuality through each other and the tight bond they form around a simple yet powerful love. Not necessarily considered “hip” or “sexy,” (written in 1982) this novel exposes the normality of love between two people.

  Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger  (questioning/coming out)

Angela, uncomfortable as a girl, comes out as transgendered to her family, friends, and classmates with a mixed bag of reactions soon to follow. Now named Grady, he brings the world head-on into his identity with humor and strength.

   Absolutely Positively Not by David LaRochelle (humor)

  “Fifteen-year-old Steven conscientiously collects photos of girls in bikinis and dates his female classmates in this humorous attempt to fit into his Minnesota high school, only to find out some surprising things about the people around him—and himself” (ALA Rainbow Project).

  Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole (humor)

  A rarity in its presentation of a non-white protagonist in LGBTQ literature, 17-year-old Laura is kicked out of school, disowned by her parents, and abandoned by her girlfriend who bends into family pressure to marry straight. Even amidst these tragic experiences, Laura confronts the world head-on with a smile to match it.

   Ash by Malinda Lo (fantasy)

  “Torn between her emerging love for the King’s mysterious huntress and the ethereal draw of the world of the fairies, Ash discovers the strength of her own identity” (ALA Rainbow Project).

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Oh yeah? Well, I’ll Find your Path.

Classes are moving along nicely. I’ve been quite distracted, as my posts appear as often as those pumpernickel pieces in Chex Mix. The class projects have all been very rewarding. For reference, I discovered the marvels of Novelist Plus. It’s a pretty amazing database of 250,000 fiction and nonfiction that provides summaries, reviews, and classifies each book into categories such as genre, storyline, pace, tone, writing style, subject, and location. You can then select each of these and look for similar titles. It’s pretty fly.

Another project I completed was a Pathfinder (note title of this entry), which is essentially a guide to researching a topic. Not necessarily the most applicable thing to a public children’s/Young Adult (YA) librarian but I decided to do LGBTQ protagonists in YA fiction. Considering it’s probably a topic of a reader’s own interest, I feel like maybe he/she would actually be interested in finding anything they can get their hands on–more than the suggested reads. This excellent website by Lee Wind provided me with a great starting point. But, for your interest, I chose the following: Sprout by Dale Peck, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, Tough Love by Abby Denson, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Empress of the World by Sara Ryan, Absolutely Positively NOT by David LaRochelle, Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara, Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, and Ash by Melinda Lo.

My reference class has also provided for some interesting conversation including the utilization of a chat box as a reference tool. In the article “Instant messaging reference: how does it compare?” by Christina M. Desai (2003), it brings up some interesting results from a study for newly implemented chat software. For instance 62% of the conversations were from computers within the library. First reaction: get over yourself and move your butt over to the desk.  But from my own experience I kinda understand the logic behind this because if you have a quick question and are far from a desk or have all of your things laid out, then it would be easier to use the chat. Another interesting thing about chat software is the removal of face-to-face interaction and with it, an inability to pick up on vocal ques and body language. I thought maybe Skype could help solve that but then my teacher thought it’d be funny if the patron could actually see the reference desk from their place in the library. It’d be even better if they could hear the librarian’s voice from afar. Overall, I think it’s crucial to have this chat software in academic libraries. However, I don’t think it would be useful in a small- or medium-sized public library because a reference desk is always within close proximity and a telephone call is a much simpler process.

Now comes a subject that I’ll be returning to often: how to bring patrons into the library. Programs are obvious. Hopefully I’ll get more extensive understanding of the perfect program in a later class so I won’t fully address it now. Layout of a library is also essential. Someone told me that all librarians should take an architecture class because it’s incredibly useful to understand the basics of cost and purpose in the architecture of a building. For young adults, I think it’s really important to have an expressive space to gather. At the Grayslake Public Library, it’s right next to the movie section. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I think that was the only place it could be put. For children, I think the best way to entice their cherub physiques is through incredible customer service and programs–preferably with live animals. Kids go ga ga for those hawks and lynxes. At least I did. Periodically, I’ll put something in here about ideas I hear for attracting patrons.

For now, I depart–but not before I present to you my future library’s entrance:

Courtesy of Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault, Central Library.

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