2 Queer Reads from MG + YA

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be performing Charlotte’s Web George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff. Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

I started to write separate reviews of these books. Then I realized the key things I have to say about each are the same. George and Juliet Takes a Breath are great examples of queer fiction for young people, for the same three reasons.

  1.  Both books are written by authors who belong to the communities about which they write. (The authors’ respective Twitter bios identify themselves as ‘trans queer’ [Gino] and ‘queer latina’ [Rivera].)
  2. Both books can be enjoyed and appreciated by those who see themselves in the protagonists and those who don’t. One audience will value this story because they can say “Yes, that’s me, that’s my experience!” Another audience might learn a lot about experiences they will never have. For example – George could be a great read for middle graders coming to understand what it means to be trans. Juliet Takes a Breath doesn’t back down from tackling the problems in feminism that we’re starting to recognize today.
  3. Most importantly, both of the audiences mentioned above can enjoy these two books because they’re really good stories for anyone to enjoy, regardless of representation. George and Juliet Takes a Breath feature characters with clear voices and story-lines that will keep you hooked. The blurbs above are, for once, spot on in capturing the book’s contents. These stories speak truths about growing into your identity and being yourself. They could be stories about someone you know. They’re definitely stories about real people. This isn’t token diversity – this is good storytelling.

Here are I am writing about diversity again…Mostly because I’m still working on my own understanding of what ‘read diverse books’ means! I’m still a bit nervous to write anything for fear of getting it wrong 😛 I don’t really have anything to contribute to the read diverse books discussion, as plenty of people can say what needs to be said better than me. But, it’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the summer, and typing it out here forces me to engage with these ideas. So here I go! Reasons 1 and 2 should not be the only reasons why we read diverse books, but especially as an aspiring librarian I want and need to be aware about stories that represents a variety of experiences (Laura @ Literacious blogged about this earlier today). For kids struggling to find themselves in stories, being able to hand them and say “This is a book about a queer Latina girl written by a queer Latina woman” could be immensely helpful. Looking back at my post about diversity, I recall this quote from Naz – “The goal should be to make “diversity” obsolete, at least in the publishing industry, and aim for all stories to be valid and valued, not because they’re “diverse” but because they reflect our world and explore universal truths.” That’s why these two books are great. At their cores, they are strong stories about being who you are and who you want to be. These kind of stories can be valued by anyone. One day, the fact that they feature a trans character or a Latina character will not be a ‘selling point’ but just one aspect of the story. One day, these stories won’t be considered ‘rarities’. But for now, because books are not as diverse as they could and should be, we need to make an effort to read and share diverse books.

One last note – As someone who doesn’t belong to the communities represented in these stories, I have a different take on these stories than a queer or POC reader. For another perspective on Juliet Takes a Breath, check out Naz @ Read Diverse Books’ ‘8 Reasons Why You Will Love JTaB‘. I am interested in reading a trans person’s perspective on George, but I haven’t yet been able to find one. Please link me up if you’ve read or written a review. Have you read either of these books? Can you recommend any other great MG/YA reads featuring queer protagonists?