- Over the Rainbow: Queer Children's and Young Adult Literature
In Over the Rainbow, Michelle Ann Abate and Kenneth Kidd compile an anthology of essays (all but one—Andrea Wood's—previously published elsewhere) to establish a solid resource for studying queer texts for children and young adults. The emphasis is clearly on the word "queer," because as the editors note, the term's nebulous nature makes it difficult to pinpoint one static meaning. Abate and Kidd provide an excellent, concise history in the Introduction, noting that "queer" went from having scattered meanings to meanings that were "more pejorative and more closely associated with same-sex attraction and gender-bending behavior" (4).
Abate and Kidd organize the essays to "correspond . . . somewhat to changes in critical discourse" (2), moving from canonical and historical works to post-1969 Stonewall Rebellion-era texts to reader/writer response and identification. Part 1, "Queering the Canon," focuses on texts such as Little Women, the Oz series, and Harriet the Spy, to "challenge the assumption that children's classics are innocent of sexuality and especially queer sexuality" (13). In "Queer Performances: Lesbian Politics in Little Women," Roberta Seelinger Trites effectively explains how Jo's relationships with Marmee, Meg, and Beth, as well as Jo's changing affections toward Laurie, all influence her choices to marry and conform to heteronormative ideals. June Cummins's essay, "Understood Betsy, Understood Nation: Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Willa Cather Queer America," involves Cousin Ann showing Betsy how to transform pants into a skirt; Cummins argues that this episode concretizes Judith Butler's theoretical construct of gender "in order to reveal its arbitrariness and political underpinnings" (63). In "Refusing the Queer Potential: John Knowles's A Separate Peace," Eric Tribunella argues that Gene's refusal to possibly identify as queer in his relationship to Finny has [End Page 89] been touted as "representative of universal adolescence in part because of its heteronormative developmental narrative" (125). These essays revisit books that do not explicitly represent LGBTQ people, and queer these primary texts in a fashion similar to what Adrienne Rich calls "revision" of older texts.
Abate and Kidd openly admit in the Introduction that the five essays in Part 2, "After Stonewall," can appear dated, not necessarily because four were published in the twentieth century, but because the majority survey the literature, compiling more than critiquing gay and lesbian characters and content. But, as the editors note, viewing Christine A. Jenkins's "Young Adult Novels with Gay/Lesbian Characters and Themes, 1969-92" in a twenty-first century context enables "a historical understanding of what has and has not changed in the explicit and implicit messages to several generations of young adult readers" (148). For example, Jenkins reports that males tend to appear more than females in gay and lesbian texts, even more so in the last seven years of the study (150). In Michael Cart and Jenkins's follow-up study, this phenomenon remains true through the year 2004 and still deserves our attention. Similarly, Vanessa Wayne Lee's essay on lesbian characters includes a taxonomy of three kinds of stories: the first ostensibly to "educate audiences unfamiliar or uncomfortable with lesbianism" (165), the second pertaining to coming out (170), and the third problematizing identity (179). This taxonomy can be used to move from a position that affirms any literature featuring queer-identified people to a position that scrutinizes the depiction of queer-identified characters. Looking at novels of the 1980s-90s, Robert McRuer finds a problematic "discursive shift" from associating AIDS with gay men to AIDS as "'everyone's disease,'" a move that marginalizes gay men from the discussion. McRuer poignantly explores the controversy around children's sexual innocence in his reading of MaryKate Jordan's Losing Uncle Tim, which presents "an identifiable gay male body" but never identifies Uncle Tim as gay; Uncle Tim is considered a well-liked, favorite "'bachelor uncle'" whose homosexuality is "an open secret, one that may be kept from children according to the discretion of an...