Guest Post: YA From a Marginalized Young Adult’s Perspective

A few weeks back @bysshefields was being really smart on twitter about being a young adult excluded from conversations about Young Adult literature. This is something that has often annoyed me, that the go-to “experts” on the genre for the mainstream media are almost never young adults themselves, that we only rarely hear from the people at whom the category is purportedly aimed. I asked Bysshe if she would write a guest post on the subject for my blog and happily she said yes.

All the words below are hers:

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My name is Bysshe and I’m a 19 year old aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn, NYC. I spend most of my time reading and writing.

Two different conversations led to my tweeting about the way YA voices are being ignored. I was talking to a friend (who is also a writer) about how no agent will want to take on my manuscript because it deviates too far from “the norm” (aka straight white girl protagonist being a badass and defeating the government). Both of us know that the audience for our stories is out there; if we and our group of friends, and THEIR groups of friends, and so on and so forth want to read about queer girls of color, then someone out there is lying about what’s actually popular in YA (particularly speculative fiction).

The second conversation occurred when my friend and I were discussing high school trauma, and how we felt that we couldn’t turn to YA because there weren’t representations of kids in our situations. Instead, we were reading books like The Godfather and Fight Club and who knows what other adult-marketed books because there was nothing heavy enough in YA to match how heavy we felt.

In what I’ve written below, I know there are misconceptions about how YA publishing works but I’ve left them in because I think they represent how little communication there is between those who market YA books and their audience. That also ties into what the idea that it’s harder to sell books about non-white/non-middle class/non-straight characters.

I truly, deeply don’t think it’s that they’re harder to sell, so much as people aren’t working as hard to sell them. Social media has taught me that the market is there. My own existence has taught me that the market is there. In my experience, the only people who truly think that diverse books might be harder to sell are people who wouldn’t buy them.

I’m certain that if Sherri L. Smith‘s Orleans got the same explosive blockbuster treatment as, say, Divergent, it would sell. Thinking that it wouldn’t is another example of young adults being underestimated because it suggests that we’re incapable of handling differences, which just isn’t true. I think that if publishers, or whoever’s in charge of properly exposing books, put the same effort into exposing diverse books, we would see a change in how they sell.1

Young Adult is defined as the ages of 15 to 25. By this definition, I’m about four-ish years into young adulthood. So far, it feels like a lot of things. It’s stifling, frustrating, exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I won’t make it out of these years alive. As a young adult, a lot of my decisions have already been made for me (if not by an adult, then by circumstances that were generated under adult influences). What little freedom I have has been cut down almost to the point of nonexistence (again, if not directly by adults, then by systems that adults put in place long before I was born).

In spite of the release that reading is supposed to give me, I’ve noticed a trend in mainstream2 YA literature: it’s exactly the same as reality, in that I have close-to-no input with regards to what happens in it.

There are a lot of teams on the playing field of the YA lit scene. Out of everyone, I feel a lot like Frodo at the Council of Elrond as I struggle to assert my voice over the Big Folk who seem to think that only they know what’s best for Middle-earth.

Just like Middle-earth, the world has become an increasingly toxic place for people my age to navigate. And basically, the parameters for the books we turn to for empathy and escape are shaped and defined by people who have little to no idea what we’re going through; people who make laundry lists of what YA is/is not, or what YA does/does not need. People telling us what we can/can’t handle, what we are/are not ready for despite the amount of things we’ve already been through. As we write our own stories and seek publication, I’ve had my own friends go over YA parameters they disagreed with but feel the need to adhere to. They’re always something like this:

  1. No blatant sex, drugs, violence, or cursing.
  2. Nothing too complex.
  3. No adults.
  4. Stick to characters and themes that are easy to understand.

Otherwise, the book “won’t sell”. Won’t sell to whom?

I’d sure as hell buy something that went against each and every one of those points. You know how that list translates to me?

  1. Sex, violence, and so forth are not a part of adolescence.
  2. Young adults are unintelligent.
  3. Young adults have no adults in their lives.
  4. Young adults don’t have real problems—never mind the harsh and diverse realities of abuse, rape, deportation, international terrorism, identity crises, mental health, the trauma of high school, etc. Let’s dumb this down, then turn it into a blockbuster film series. The end.

Have the majority of editors in YA publishing houses ever actually spoken to a young adult? If you have, have you asked them what they needed to read? What they needed empathy for? Have you, as an adult, tried to think back on what you needed to hear when you were my age or younger? Because if yes to any of those, then it isn’t showing. None of the Big Folk seem to have ANY idea what I needed to read at the age of 16, and what I still need to read now at the age of 19.

When I was an even younger young adult than I am now, I needed to read about sex. I can already visualize a bunch of mainstream authors pulling on puppy faces and gesturing to copies of their novels: “But what about my—?”

Stop right there. As a young, queer girl of color, I needed—no, NEED to read about sex. Heroines of my race having sex in a way that isn’t hyper-sexualized. Heroines having sex that isn’t just romanticized rape. Heroines having sex with multiple partners over the course of a series, because the first-boyfriend-only-boyfriend model is a dangerous misconstruction of reality.

I wanted heroines who know that it’s okay to fall in love multiple times. Heroines who know that it’s okay to leave relationships. I wanted to read about queer kids having sex. Period. None of those fade-to-black sex scenes between straight characters have ever taught me anything about safe, healthy sexual relationships. Sure, I could go to Planned Parenthood for that, but that’s embarrassing and terrifying for a kid to have to do and I’d rather just access my bookshelf like I do for everything else.

You know what? Sixteen-year-old me wanted to read about sex because she wanted to read about sex. Period. Good portrayals of sex are something that sixteen-year-old me desperately needed, and that nineteen-year-old me desperately needs now. Good portrayals of sex help kids to learn the signs of abusive, coercive relationships. “But that’s too explicit” my ass. The virgin, white-girl heroine never taught me anything except that my version of adolescence was dirty and needed to be kept off the shelves.

I needed to see violence—not some sick gore fest or anything, but something that subverted the violence happening around me. I grew up in Detroit—America’s capital of violent crime and murder. If you know anything about Detroit, then you know it’s closer than any city in America to becoming a modern urban dystopia. And yet the only message I’ve managed to pull from half the dystopias on shelves is that “the government” is “after me”.

How is the government after me? Is it the devastating impact of capitalism on the working class? Is it the fucked up education system? The school-to-prison pipeline? The military industrial complex? The ever present hetero-patriarchy that many, YA writers, editors, and publishers included, are complicit in? Because after taking a long list of classes and reading a long list of essays, I’ve finally figured out that, yes, those are the problems. But somehow my books couldn’t tell me that. Interesting.

Surprisingly, I need to see adults. I’m really curious about this one. Why do adult writers of young adult books tend to write adults out of the picture? Or else portray them as flat, villainous characters?

Throughout high school, I had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother, and definitely needed to see people my age communicating effectively with their parents. After having endured many mentally and verbally abusive teachers, I learned to neither trust nor respect adults, but to fear them. Even though I was going to be an adult soon, I hated all of them and had no idea how to approach them.

Reading about abusive adults in YA lit hasn’t done anything to heal me from that. I definitely needed to see that it was possible for someone my age to have a connection with an adult that wasn’t full of miscommunications and didn’t border on abusive. At this point, I’d say that stereotyping adults as vapid villains does more harm than good.

More than anything, I need a spectrum of issues—a whole rainbow of characters and themes to match my identity, and the identities of the many people I know. This is probably more important to me than any of the above.

Adults in the publishing industry are currently responsible for the devastating and, frankly, embarrassing lack of diversity in the YA canon. Publishers and edits and basically everyone else who’s not writing what they see for a living, don’t seem to think we’re capable of handling a catalog of diverse narratives—which is complete and utter bullshit.

Don’t project your racist, sexist, transphobic, queerphobic, xenophobic, and otherwise marginalizing overview of reality onto my generation. Our realities encompass racial identity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, mental illness, disability, abusive relationships, poverty, immigration. The list goes on and on, and we need to see people with complex identities and narratives in our fiction.

We need to see people coping with racism. We need to see queer and trans people coming out of the closet. We need to see queer and trans people doing things OTHER than coming out of the closet. Seriously. There’s always been more to my life than queer angst. There is more to my queer life than the closet, than simply telling people that I’m queer.

We need to see queer kids breaking out of the established set of queer tropes. We need to see people ending unhealthy relationships and forming newer, healthy ones. We need to see all the issues that the Big Folk think they’re hiding from us because these issues are not exclusive to adults. These things are happening to us, too, and censoring in our fiction only makes us feel more alone. We need to see these things happening to people like us in the books that we’re supposed to be able to turn to. Even if the character’s problems aren’t solved, just knowing that someone with the same issues means the world to people who feel trapped in their lives.

I don’t think this is an issue with authorship. I don’t think this is an issue of editorship, either. To be honest, I’m not sure what type of issue it is. All I know is that I am very, very frustrated with the lack of complexity and diversity in the mainstream catalog of books for my age range. I think that there are plenty of authors I haven’t heard about writing just for me, but for one reason or another, I can’t access them.

Justine provided an excellent insight, which is that it isn’t that things aren’t being published, but because they’re not being promoted as heavily as the big books like Divergent. Or they’re being published by smaller publishers with a smaller reach. Or they’re not being published at all.

Is it that adult-operated publishing houses are telling adult writers what they should/shouldn’t be writing for the YA audience, without first consulting the audience itself? If so, this is blatantly disrespectful not only to authors, but to me, because a large portion of the industry that wants my support doesn’t respect my identity or my intelligence. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve given wide berth to the young adult bookshelves while I sit back to write the series I’ve always wanted to read. If it weren’t for the fact that I eventually want to be published, I might’ve quit altogether.

But I don’t want to quit.

The books I’ve needed to read are out there. They’re just few and far in between. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith follows a young, black rape survivor navigating a hostile post-deluge New Orleans, where people are hunted for their blood. Coda by Emma Trevayne follows a diverse group of teens operating within a dystopia fuelled by music. Pointe by Brandy Colbert features a black girl protagonist with an eating disorder and deals with a multitude of heavy issues that teens in her situation might normally face. Last year’s If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is a f/f love story set in Iran. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina features an Aboriginal Australian protagonist in a supernatural dystopian future. These books are all immensely important, but they’re under-marketed, and even then, they’re not enough.

YA lit is too important to be given up on, and instead needs to be worked on. Many of the criticisms of YA are baseless and frivolous, such as the notion that adults should be embarrassed to read YA because, according to Slate, it’s all “written for children.” Bullshit.

If after the age of 25, I can only read the Adult Literary Canon™ for the rest of my life, I may as well just sign out now. It’s easy enough to address all these problems: cut down on the Big Folk vs. Hobbit mentality. Publishers need to start treating their young adult audiences like growing, developing human beings, or else the industry runs the risk of ending up as dystopic as half the books on the shelves. Stop telling us what we need and ask us instead.

We are more than just a market. This should be a partnership.

  1. See also: #weneeddiversebooks []
  2. Heavy emphasis on the word mainstream. There are definitely books out there that do a good job of things like this. But why are they so hard to find? []

32 comments

  1. jennygadget on #

    I just want to say thank you especially for pointing out that young adult is meant to refer to younger adults as well as teens. I feel like a lot of the lack of listening on the part of older adults (like me) comes from that – and likewise, that a lot of the claim that ya = teens/minors comes from not wanting to have to listen.

    Also, Orleans and If You Could Be Mine are awesome. Pointe is already on my list, and since you clearly have good taste I’m adding Coda and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf as well.

    • Justine on #

      Totally. All the data says that the majority of those buying YA are not teenagers. Yet, we keep talking as if they’re the only audience. (Not that we should be dismissing the opinions of actual teens of which Bysshe is one.)

      And, yes, I’d only read Orleans of those titles. Have now purchased the others. Can’t wait to read them!

  2. traceyb65 on #

    great list of alternatives to the narrow mainstream of YA fiction that I will enjoy looking into! even as someone way past the YA target group, I find it ridiculous the most obvious point is being missed: that the teen plus age group being catered to by YA is the time when we all feel most cut off, unrepresented and out of place. i suspect even the whitest, straightest 16yo would feel enough of an association with the outsideness of a queer, black protagonist to inhabit their story. no 17yo accepts a world without real sex, real fear and real adults who are still so much in control (and sometimes way out of control). what YA should never do is present a cut-down-from-adult world. I wish you every success Bysshe, your articulate voice is needed. T

    • bysshe on #

      You raise an excellent point. Pariahdom is almost universal in young adulthood. Me and half my friends are only friends because we’re outsiders.

      Thanks so much for the well wishes!

  3. Artemis Grey on #

    bysshe, THANK YOU for writing this!!! And thank you, Justine, for hosting her post. I love all of this. I want to print it out and tape it to the back of my laptop and every single time I’m working on writing and I stop and think ‘Eh, is this too much? Will it be unmarketable with this in it?’ I will read that and think ‘Fuck the ‘market’ I’m writing for the young adults, NOT the market!’ and get back to work on the story.

    It’s tragic how spot on you are, bysshe. Like you, I grew up reading adult books because there was so much more to them. And now that I’m writing and trying to get my own stuff published, I’m always startled when I get feedback of ‘don’t you think this is a little much/heavy/graphic for a YA audience?’ or in one case, where I’ve got supportive parents who are less likely to yell/argue with their kids, and more likely to just listen to them, I’ve had multiple people say ‘There’s just not enough tension between the parents and the MC.’ And I’m thinking ‘There are awesome parents out there. In the real world, if you’re lucky enough to have parents you really get along with, it’s a good thing, so why is it a bad thing in books?’

    I’m going to reread this post over and over again. And I expect to be reading other works of writing by you, bysshe, in the not so distant future!

  4. Dahlia Adler on #

    Love this post. As an adult who reads and writes YA but doesn’t have much exposure to actual teens outside Twitter, it’s fantastic to hear from the actual audience being represented (or at least intended to be), particularly in such a well thought out, articulate post that provides some excellent recommendations. (CODA is a frequent rec from me for an example of a great depiction of a bisexual MC in a book where sexuality isn’t an issue, I loved IF YOU COULD BE MINE and can’t wait for her upcoming release, and POINTE is one of my favorite books of the year and one I rec to death. Just added ORLEANS to my TBR!) I think YA would benefit so much more from encouraging empathy – put diverse characters out there in great stories and let people see that someone doesn’t have to look exactly like you for you to be able to relate, while at the same time allowing more people to physically see themselves in characters.

    And, on a totally personal and selfish note, it makes me happy to see the importance of certain things stated. My 2015 release has a Korean-American actress MC falling in love with an out bisexual girl, and when I realized and discussed with friends that there’s basically no non-fade-to-black f/f sex in YA…let’s just say I thought that needed to change. With a vengeance :) And every time I read over those scenes and think, “Oh, God, is it crazy that I’m doing this in YA?” I think of things like this blog post, and how important it is that *everyone* get to read about good, honest, verbally consensual sex, and take my finger off the mental Backspace button.

    So, really, thank you.

  5. catherine on #

    Thank you for writing such am excellent post. I liked your point about portrayals of healthy relationships with adults- too many ya novels have adults mostly out of the picture or as the totalitarian head of the government. But actual YAs have complex relationships with the adults around them and portraying that is important.

  6. Jackied on #

    Fascinating to read, particularly as someone else who has written YA novels that include mental illness, gender issues etc and been told ‘good book but not commercial, no thanks’ .

    I’ll tell you what I think the problem is. Kid’s books are marketed to parents/adults, not children, because they’re the ones with the money. They are also marketed for an international audience, so have to be acceptable in every country (hence the prevalence of talking animals in picture books, since these are racially neutral, and also the sad lack of poetry these days, as it doesn’t translate well). Perhaps the publishers are treating the YA market in the same way and catering to what they think the parents will buy for their children? Its even true to some extent – I have two YA children and my nieces are also both YA, and I know that their grandmother ‘vets’ the YA books on their christmas lists for sex and violence before buying! Possibly other relatives do too.

  7. Deborah Blake Dempsey on #

    I am standing and applauding everything you have said. Young adults are going through so much and “adults” are trying to shelter them from going through what they’re already experiencing. I’m glad you wrote this as it needs to be discussed and considered. I wish you much success.

    Good luck and Good Writing.

  8. mclicious on #

    This is so excellent and true. I hope editors and bigwigs are listening.

  9. Rhiannon on #

    The YA market *is* a partnership. E.g. look at the lovely One Direction fanfic, written by a teen girl, which got a big deal from Penguin recently. She built her audience of teen fans on Wattpad. Where there are big audiences, there will be book deals.

    Yes, welcome to the headfuck world of publishing. Enjoy your time here.

    Meanwhile–there’s plenty of diverse and realistic YA about these days. I’m a former acquisitions ed, so I should know–I acquired some of it. I’m good friends with authors who talk to teenagers and write intense, realistic YA novels; they send their books to be beta read by teens, too. Yes, the big blockbusters are sometimes baffling and frustrating in their success, but that’s business for you. They only represent a small part of YA fiction, and they’re just part of the “people wanting to read stupid stuff,” reality that at some point, all writers have to make their peace with if they’d like to keep their sanity. (On occasion, I even like a bit of stupid stuff myself, heh).

    In the meantime, write what you want to read, and make it high-concept enough for a large audience to be interested. With a stroke of luck, you’ll have some success.

    Oh, and The Bunker Diary just won a YA prize over here in the UK. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s being compared to SAW. Progress: we haz it.

    • bysshe on #

      I appreciate the input from someone who actually has experience in publishing, but it seems like you’ve disregarded almost everything I wrote in favor of pulling a rug over the issues I pointed out. A piece of One Direction fanfiction is not exactly comparable to a book that represents the gruesome realities of being a young adult. Four out of the five One Direction members are white boys. All of them are straight. How is the publication of a One Direction fanfiction progress for marginalized communities? I also requested that authors and others not point out their own reputations as examples of “progress” in the industry. Your niche doesn’t represent the market as a whole, which is ultimately very exclusive in terms of race, gender, sexual identity, and sexual orientation.

      Blockbusters don’t frustrate me per se. I’m proud of every author who manages to make it to that scale, and I think just about every story has themes and messages that everyone can take away.

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean by high-concept. One look at the best-seller lists tells me that “high-concept” must have something to do with being straight, white, able-bodied, etc. If I’ve messed up the definition, then can someone please explain to me why high-concept doesn’t seem to include marginalized characters? Why the only gritty realities people can accept are dystopias and not the very severe modern issues facing us all now?

      Again, thanks for your response, but I’m telling you as an actual young adult that we do not haz as much progress as you think we do.

      • Rhiannon on #

        My post was sarcastic. No, One Direction fanfiction absolutely isn’t a good example of diverse YA fiction, but it’s where a large proportion of readers in the demographic have put their money and their time. Thus it’s a good example of YA publishing in “partnership” with its audience, whether we like the result or not. Publishers will listen to what teens want, but you have to find the right way to tell them. A popular Wattpad project is apparently an excellent voice.

        High concept: “a simple or striking premise or idea.” You can sum up high concept plots in one succinct, attractive line e.g. “Jurassic Park in space.” There’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t make that diverse, but quite often, LGBT fiction in particular ends up being literary, and lit fic struggles in general (even if you’re Alan Hollinghurst).

        I’ve not disregarded anything you’ve said; I’ve told you how and why some of these publishing decisions are made, and why they occur. Just because my experience differs from yours, it doesn’t invalidate it. We have indeed made progress, even if it isn’t as much as you’d like, but from this side of the fence, it’s a step in the right direction. I hope that we make many more.

  10. Heather on #

    This post is encouraging to me for the YA book I’m hoping to sell. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I spent a lot of time with teens/college age people b/c of my husband’s profession. One of them always beta reads for me, and she – like you – wants more from YA that what’s out there. She holds my writing to a higher standard and I appreciate that.

  11. Dennis Freedman on #

    I know nothing about literature or the genre of YA. I only read your post based on Justines recommendation on twitter. However, I found it very powerful and educational. Thank you for writing it and I wish you the best of luck in getting your message through.

  12. Richard Manning on #

    Excellent post, Bysshe.

    You call yourself an “aspiring author” — well, if your fiction writing is as creative, cogent, and passionate as the above post, you’ll be able to lose the “aspiring” part much sooner than you think.

  13. Holly U on #

    Yes, yes, a million times yes to this article!

  14. Ambelin Kwaymullina on #

    Dear Bysshe

    Bravo! I don’t underestimate the courage it takes to be the voice speaking up; I still find it difficult at times and I’m a lot older than you (of course that just makes me less brave, since human beings tend to get stupider and more cowardly as we grow older).

    And from an authors perspective – oh yes, it would be lovely to have blockbuster marketing resources thrown at me – but to be honest, a thousand shiny advertisements wouldn’t mean anywhere near as much to me as reading your post and seeing that you’ve read my book. It wouldn’t mean as much, either, as interacting with the Indigenous and other disadvantaged teenagers I work with and having the chance to pass on some of my hard-fought-for knowledge, in the hope of making their pathway just a little easier. People from diverse backgrounds might generally be short on marketing resources – and other financial resources, if it comes to that – but I like to think we are uniquely positioned to change the world, because we know how much it needs changing. We do change it, too, every time we speak up or reach out to help each other, as indeed do those who come from privilege when they are prepared to raise their voices in support of those who don’t. I’ll admit it can be a very slow change and there are days when I am frustrated and angry at the great injustices and petty cruelties of this planet. But then I hear a voice like yours, speaking with power and authority and agency. I am reminded again of why I’ll never write for adults, and where I see the hope of the world.

    Finally, for anyone wanting to read work by authors of diverse backgrounds, my suggestion is this: go looking. As Bysshe so correctly points out a lot of these works are under-marketed or they are put out by smaller presses that simply don’t have the marketing budgets of the larger publishers to begin with. In relation to works by Indigenous writers in Australia, check out the catalogues of the Aboriginal publishers: IAD Press, Magabala Books, and Aboriginal Studies Press. Move on from there to other publishers, and look too at the Blackwords database on the Austlit website.

    And if you are a parent, and you’d like to see your child presented with a wider range of voices than they are getting in libraries, schools, and bookstores – start asking why a more diverse range of books isn’t being stocked. Because I can pretty much guarantee that it isn’t that they don’t exist.

    Ambelin Kwaymullina

  15. Tania Roxborogh on #

    Thank you; and, finally, out of the horse’s mouth kind of evidence of what I’ve been trying to get through to my publishers for years! I’m old now but I still remember been a teen; I have teen kids; I teach teens. I hear them every day. My head is full of their voices and their stories and I’m tired of shaving off the awkward bits to make the white middle aged, middle class female editors (cos that’s my reality at the moment) feel better about reading my stories. Have shared your post. I feel a little less alone right now – not just a lone voice in the wilderness. Kia kaha! Kia manawanui! (our native language for Be strong! Be steadfast)

  16. Mandy Hager on #

    Great comments – well done for getting them out there. I’d also like to suggest reading YA from other countries. As someone looking in from the outside (and in the writing world) US publishers and reviewers (traditionally your gatekeepers) have a very one-dimensional view of what is acceptable and the kinds of voices they think you want to hear. There are some truly amazing, diverse, varied and intelligent books out there – just not on your local bookshelves.

  17. S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) on #

    Thank you so so much for this article! I went through and checked out the books mentioned in the third to last paragraph, and lo and behold, they are all traditionally published at high prices too. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by me that this YA reader is now a New Adult reader and she may find more of what she needs to read in the New Adult market (and mostly self-published too).

    But that doesn’t negate the fact that she should have read the work she wanted to read as a young adult, and it’s a shame that traditional publishers are most likely turning away those novels because they don’t fit a mold. I wish it were easier for young adults to access self-published work. A lot of it goes digital-only or never gets published at all because the author knows that the young adult market for digital-only is small. I wrote a diverse young adult novel (half-Japanese girl raised by lesbian aunts in a dystopian world) and couldn’t get publishers to look at it. I changed it to New Adult, self-published, and found my audience. Would young adults have loved it? Quite possibly. But it didn’t fit the mold. I wish there was a solution to this! It was nice to hear from a marginalized young adult. I hope the people in “power” are listening.

  18. PK Hrezo on #

    I really hope this post reaches all the right people. It’s so well thought out and well said. Why aren’t they getting the same exposure?? It’s a conundrum. And I fear there’s one too many higher ups that feel certain subjects are taboo. Sad. As an indie author I’ve experienced quite a few adult readers claim my YA shouldn’t have the drug use or that it’s offensive, as well as a few F bombs here and there and I just think “Really?? Don’t you remember what that age was like? Cuz I sure do. ”
    I think like you say the books are out there but they’re invisible in a saturated market of white washed hetero stories that are great but never fully touch on what this age group faces.
    We have to keep striving for it.
    BTW you may wanna explore NA as it’s expanding into more of what you’re looking for.

  19. Johanna on #

    Bysshe, thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful post. You hit so many nails on so many heads. Very much well done.

    I wanted to weigh in with a response to your footnote: “Heavy emphasis on the word mainstream. There are definitely books out there that do a good job of things like this. But why are they so hard to find?”

    I’ve written two books through a small publisher that exclusively publishes books featuring LGBTQIA characters, and I have been BAFFLED by how much the “marketing gatekeepers” of the publishing world ignore small publishers’ books. By “marketing gatekeepers” (there’s probably a better title available; sorry) I mean review journals, review blogs, and book stores themselves. The big review journals and wider-reach book bloggers seem to only have time for books published by the Big 6 publishers, and bookstores (both large and small) are reluctant to use shelf space up and front costs for books that they can’t guarantee will sell and won’t be able to send back if they don’t sell. This initial lack of marketing through reviews and bookstores then leads to librarians/teachers/parents being unaware that these books exist…and therefore unable to get them into teens’ hands. It also makes it very diffcult for teens to easily find these books themselves.

    I will say that some publications such as School Library Journal seem to be making changes on this front—SLJ, I’ve noticed, has been doing more reviews for smaller presses and partnering with many small presses on events. And there are so many bloggers who are excited to write reviews for books published by small presses. But so many other review journals and larger book bloggers seem to associate “small press” with “not worthy of our time.” I’ve now come to the conclusion that in order for YA lit to truly become a place where diverse perspectives are available, one of two things must happen: either the Big 6 must work harder at getting these perspectives on the shelves, therefore eliminating this vacuum that has been filled by smaller publishers, or the “marketing gatekeepers” need to become more amenable to working with smaller presses that are doing their part to get these perspectives on the shelves. Personally, I’d prefer the latter, as I like working with my small press. I understand that for many bookstores there is simply a business model issue preventing this from happening, but surely the right conversations with small publishers could eliminate some, if not all, of this issue. As far as review publications and blogs go, I’d like to see this industry move to destroy the stereotype that small press equals low quality. It doesn’t. Large press does not always equal high quality. Personally, I’m getting tired of apologizing for being published with a small press.

    (Quick caveat: the view I just expressed here are solely my own, and are in no way intended to reflect the opinions of my editors or publishing house. These are simply my observations as both a YA writer and an educator who works hard to put as many different characters as possible in front of students.)

  20. Ruth de Jauregui on #

    Fabulous! Thank you so much for your post.

    And thank you too for the references to those books. I’ve added the science fiction/fantasy to my list of books to add to my little website Alien Star Books, which features science fiction and fantasy for teens and young adults of Color.

    As for F-bombs and sex, that’s what parental warnings are for — and I do try to put up warnings — since I’m on the pretty darn liberal side of that fence.

    And please, I am always looking for more books to add, so do feel free to email me with suggestions. I’m always running a little behind, as it’s a labor of love, so please be patient with me.

    Thank you again for your wonderful words.

  21. Lee Wind on #

    Cheers to you both – Loved reading this and really listening to what Bysshe wrote. Am linking to this from SCBWI: The Blog on Tuesday upcoming (July 22, 2014) – hopefully that will get many more adults from our world of Children’s Publishing to listen as well.
    Best!
    Lee

  22. Jane Pinckard on #

    Super smart, cogently and passionately articulated. Thank you so much for writing this, Bysshe.

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