- The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–2004
The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–2004 offers a comprehensive history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and/or queer (GLBTQ) novels for young adults. Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins help legitimize the field of young adult gay literature by making visible nearly two hundred young adult novels with gay/lesbian/queer content published within the past thirty-five years. As a resource and reference work aimed at teachers and librarians rather than literary scholars, their text exposes the queer child to a wide and general audience by tracing the progression, expansion in publication numbers, and diversification of characters in GLBTQ novels for young adults. But in their examination of representative and important plots, themes, and characters, Cart and Jenkins do not engage the concept of queer childhood beyond recovering these novels.
As the first paragraph of the introduction reveals, the core of this project is to "give faces to the unnumbered millions of homosexual youth in the U.S. from 1969 to 2004" (xv). The authors do so by following the classification models that Jenkins employs in her noteworthy series of essays on gay and lesbian youth that culminated in the 1998 "From Queer to Gay and Back Again: Young Adult Novels with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969–1997." In that essay, Jenkins took a cue from, among others, Rudine Sims Bishop's Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children's Fiction, which proposed a "three-part model to describe the treatment of African-American characters in children's books published in the years immediately following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s" (Jenkins 311). Similarly, Cart and Jenkins use the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 as a cultural referent, grouping their novels into three categories that foreground their major historical thematic periods. First to appear were novels with homosexuality visibility, or those in which a character comes out as gay, either voluntarily or involuntarily. While these texts are still written today, they dominated in the 1970s and early 1980s. Second were gay assimilation texts, prevalent during the 1980s, where more sexually diverse characters happen to be gay in a straight world. However, their diversity often evokes violence. Third were queer consciousness/community novels, which have characters who live "in the context of their communities of GLBTQ people and their families of choice," not in isolation (xx). Though a few books in the 1970s and 1980s integrated their characters into a larger GLBTQ community, these texts are largely a function of the mid-1990s to now.
This approach allows Cart and Jenkins to explain how the most foundational characters of the genre—Davy from John Donovan's 1969 I'll Get There: It Better Be Worth the Trip, [End Page 390] and Eliza from Nancy Garden's 1982 Annie on My Mind—come out in isolation and how more recent characters—Dirk and Duck from Francesca Lia Block's 1989 Weetzie Bat, and Marisol from Ellen Wittlinger's 1999 Hard Love—are already gay, have gay friends and gay-friendly families, and seek out a queer community of which they desire to be a part. But this approach limits the theoretical examination of the texts in connection to the marked cultural changes happening concurrently. Jenkins asks in her article, "In a society with such volatile political and cultural attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, why is this literature so tenaciously conservative?" (305). It is an excellent question that is, unfortunately, outside the scope of their book.
Among the book's highlights are a "Timeline of Events Relevant to GLBTQ Youth," as well as two appendices that list 187 books published since 1969 classified by their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual characters, whether those characters play a primary or secondary narrative role, and which of the three categories the book belongs to. Also, Cart and Jenkins...