In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More gay and gay-friendly YA

Dear Aunt Debbie,

On our way home from preschool today, Eleanor informed me that pink is a girl color.  Not only that, but that girls like bright colors and boys like dark colors, and boys like trucks and girls like princesses.  I pointed out that her friend Ian likes a lot of the same things she does, including things that are pink, but she was undeterred.  So yeah, I just placed a hold on Pinky and Rex and the Bully at the library.

A few more gay and gay-friendly YA titles to round out the week:

My friend Denise (middle-school teacher and previous guest blogger) reminded me yesterday of a great anthology aimed at junior high and high school kids, and edited by Marion Dane Bauer: Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence.  It's 18 stories by contemporary (as of 1995) YA authors: Lois Lowry, M.E. Kerr, Jane Yolen, Bruce Coville, and a number of others.  I remember a wide range of themes, genres, and tones -- a solid and interesting collection.  The title comes from the Bruce Coville story, in which a fairy godfather helps a gay kid who's being bullied by casting a spell that turns everyone a shade of blue, depending on where they fall on the gay/straight spectrum, and revealing some gay-bashers as hypocrites.

One of the authors included in Am I Blue? is Francesca Lia Block, who I discovered in grad school and read in great gulps.  Her books are strange and vivid, written almost as if tongue-in-cheek, but not quite, and populated with characters with names like Pony, Mellow Moon, Rave, and La.

Block's best-known books are the Weetzie Bat series, collected together in the volume Dangerous Angels.  The publisher's descriptions I'm glancing at as I write refer to them as "postmodern fairy tales," which I suppose is as good a way as any to characterize them.  Weetzie Bat starts out on the first page of the book as a high schooler, but the high school idea is quickly dropped as she revels in the sparkle and the old-fashioned glamor of Los Angeles, meets her gay best friend, Dirk, and hangs out and parties with him while looking for ducks (Dirk's name for men) for both of them.  With the brief help of a genie in a lamp (that's the fairy tale bit), Dirk winds up with a duck named Duck, Weetzie gets a guy named My Secret Agent Lover Man, and they all live together in a cute little house. 

What makes it not cloying?  Partly it's that the stories are so odd -- you never know where they're going next. When Weetzie Bat goes in one book from being a teenager to deciding to have a baby with Dirk and Duck because My Secret Agent Lover Man thinks the world is too flawed to bring a child into it, you kind of go oh, okay.  Partly it's that there's an understanding of pain beneath the flash and glitter -- Weetzie Bat's father, Charlie Bat, dies of a drug overdose; Duck gets very sad about all of his friends dying simply because they love each other (the first book was written in 1989, and AIDS is a major specter, though it's never directly named).  When Weetzie goes ahead with her baby plan, My Secret Agent Lover Man is wildly hurt, and leaves her for a period of time.  There's something real going on.

Block's short story collection, Girl Goddess #9, is more realistic than Weetzie Bat.  Some of the nine stories in the volume involve gay characters -- "Winnie and Cubby" (which appears in Am I Blue? as "Winnie and Teddy") is about a girl whose boyfriend comes out to her on a trip to San Francisco; the novella "Dragons in Manhattan" is narrated by Tuck, a girl with two mothers who goes searching for her father and finds a complex story involving a transgendered character.  Even in those not explicitly about gay characters, however, there's a sense of both gender and sexuality being complex and sometimes transmutable things.  In "Blue," a young girl deals with her beautiful, artistic mother's suicide by talking with an imaginary friend who appears in the form of an androgynous little blue person in her closet.  My memory is that you're not crazy about Block, and I don't think she's a writer for everyone, but I can see her speaking deeply to the right kid.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, Annie! There are so many wonderful gay and gay-friendly children's books these days, like Harvey Fierstein's "The Sissy Duckling" and "Pug Dog" (I forget the author, but it's an extremely adorable book)

    NWP rocks!!!