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Young Adult Literature  
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AIDS in Young Adult Literature

Young adult literature has only begun to meet the challenge of educating its audience to the dangers and problems associated with AIDS. In an important article on this subject, Alan Teasley uncovered only eight young adult titles in which AIDS is a major theme.

Most of these books do not associate AIDS exclusively with gay men, although the first, M. E. Kerr's well-written and affecting Night Kites (1986), features the protagonist's brother as a gay man with AIDS.

In Alice Hoffman's At Risk (1988), however, Amanda Ferrell has contracted AIDS from contaminated blood, as has the protagonist's uncle in Alida Young's I Never Got to Say Goodbye (1988).

In Koertge's The Arizona Kid, the main character, Billy, is not gay, but his Uncle Wes is. Wes and his circle of gay friends (many with AIDS) are secondary to the major action, but Wes provides safer sex education for Billy in his romance with Cara.

Michael Bishop's Unicorn Mountain (1988) is set in Colorado, where unicorns appear to a group of young people living in the mountains. One character, Bo, is a young man with AIDS; in a subplot, he discovers that the unicorns are dying of a rare disease.

The Lack of Diversity in Young Adult Fiction

The world available to young adult audiences is overwhelmingly white, middle class, and male.

Working-class characters appear in only five of the seventy titles that feature gay and lesbian characters and themes. These include Guy's Ruby, Garden's Annie on My Mind, and Rees's In the Tent (1979).

Only three titles feature African-American characters: Guy's Ruby, Jacqueline Woodson's The Dear One (1992), and Rees's The Milkman's on His Way. In the field of young adult lesbian and gay fiction, there are apparently only three authors of color, Alice Childress, Rosa Guy, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Some Positive and Constructive Young Adult Fiction

Despite the limitations of young adult fiction (including its failure to offer realistic settings and to create well-developed characters) and its tendency to perpetuate stereotypes about gay men and lesbians, the field contains several titles that are well worth reading and sharing with young people.

These offer constructive and reassuring images and address sensitively and engagingly a number of important issues of interest to gay and lesbian youth, including homophobia, coming out, and accepting the sexuality of parents, siblings, teachers, and friends.

For example, Koertge's The Arizona Kid, which is distinguished by humor and warmth, presents gay characters in a relatively stable and interesting community. Deborah Hautzig's Hey, Dollface (1978) is the classic crush novel, and Barbara Wersba's Crazy Vanilla (1986) compellingly depicts a younger brother's coming to terms with his elder sibling's gayness. Woodson's The Dear One (1991) features a lesbian couple, Marion and Bernadette, who are strong and productive individuals.

Some recent novels, such as Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat (1989) and Klein's My Life As a Body, have begun to deproblematize the gayness of gay characters. Still others, such as Joyce Sweeney's Face the Dragon (1990), Jackie Calhoun's Sticks and Stones (1992), and Rik Isensee's We're Not Alone, have begun to explore the larger social and personal implications of sexual identity.

Taken in the aggregate, young adult gay and lesbian literature can be best regarded as a world of promise and possibility with a huge agenda ahead.

Melinda Kanner

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literature >> Overview:  Children's Literature

Gay- and lesbian-relevant themes and issues resonate throughout both classic and contemporary works of children's literature.

literature >> Alger, Horatio, Jr.

The author of triumphant rags-to-riches stories of young men who succeed financially by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, Horatio Alger, Jr. created an enduring American myth that his actual life belied.

literature >> Hartinger, Brent

Although best known as a writer of young adult fiction, Brent Hartinger is also a playwright and an activist against censorship.

literature >> Newman, Lesléa

Prolific Jewish femme lesbian-feminist writer of poetry, fiction, and children's books, Leslèa Newman draws on her own multiple identities to describe the complex tapestry that results when a variety of identities are woven together.

literature >> Rice, Christopher

Christopher Rice, the author of five popular, gay-themed suspense thrillers, has also been active in supporting glbtq causes, especially those affecting glbtq youth.

literature >> Sanchez, Alex

Alex Sanchez's unique background as a youth and family counselor and his experiences as an immigrant have helped make him an important voice in today's young adult glbtq literature canon.

literature >> Selvadurai, Shyam

Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Shyam Selvadurai has emerged as a significant figure in post-colonial and gay writing by virtue of the style, wit, and perspicacity of his three novels.

literature >> Woodson, Jacqueline

A prize-winning author of books for young adults, the African-American lesbian writer Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to a complex range of both straight and gay characters.


Brogan, Jim. "Gay Teens in Literature." The Gay Teen: Educational Practice and Theory for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adolescents. Gerald Unks, ed. New York: Routledge, 1995. 67-78.

Connor, Matt. "Flight from the Closet: Gay Characters Come Out." Genre 2 (December 1992): 58-61, 84.

Cuseo, Allan A. Homosexual Characters in YA Novels: A Literary Analysis, 1969-1982. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992.

Garden, Nancy. "Dick and Jane Grow up Gay." Lambda Book Report 3.7 (1992): 7-10.

Goodman, Jan. "Out of the Closet but Paying the Price: Lesbian and Gay Characters in Children's Literature." Interracial Books for Children Bulletin 14.3-4 (1983): 13-15.

Hanckel, Frances, and John Cunningham. "Can Young Gays Find Happiness in YA books?" Wilson Library Bulletin 50.7 (1976): 528-534.

Jenkins, Christine. "Gay and Lesbian Books for Young Adults." Feminist Bookstore News 9.3 (1987): 24-25.

_____. "Heartthrobs and Heartbreaks: A Guide to Young Adult Books with Gay Themes." Out/Look 1.3 (Fall 1988): 82-92.

_____. "Young Adult Novels with Gay/Lesbian Characters and Themes 1969-1992: A Historical Reading of Content, Gender, and Narrative Distance." Youth Services in Libraries 7 (1993): 43-55.

_____, and Julie Morris. A Look at Gayness: An Annotated Bibliography of Gay Materials for Young People. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Kindred Spirit Press, 1982.

_____, and Julie Morris. "Recommended Books on Gay/Lesbian Themes." Interracial Books for Children 14.3-4 (1983): 16-19.

MacDonald, Stephen. "Young, Gay, and the Problem of Self-identity: An Annotated Bibliography." Kids and Libraries. Ken Haycock and Carol-Ann Haycock, eds. Vancouver, B.C.: Dyad Services, 1984. 87-90.

Olson, Ray. "Almost Grown and Gay." Voice of Youth Advocates 3 (April 1980): 19-23.

Paolella, Edward C. "Resources for and about Lesbian and Gay Youth: An Annotated Survey." References Services Review 12 (1984): 72-92.

Sumara, Dennis. "Gay and Lesbian Voices in Literature: Making Room on the Shelf." English Quarterly 28.1 (1993): 30-34.

Teasley, Alan. "YA Literature about AIDS: Encountering the Unimaginable." The ALAN Review 20.3 (1993): 18-23.

Tillapaugh, Meg. "AIDS: A Problem for Today's YA Problem Novel." School Library Journal 39 (1993): 22-25.

Wilson, David E. "The Open Library: YA Books for Gay Teens." English Journal 73.7 (1984): 60-63.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kanner, Melinda  
    Entry Title: Young Adult Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 21, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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