- LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction: A Critical Survey, 1970s–2010s by Caren J. Town
Caren J. Town's book delivers what it promises: a survey of select works of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer fiction for young adults published between the 1970s and the 2010s. It serves as a handy desk reference for scholars, students, parents, teachers, and librarians making selections of LGBTQ fiction for adolescent readers.
Town's book comprises an introduction that surveys queer theory, as well as scholarship on LGBTQ young adult fiction; a chapter on groundbreaking LGB works from the 1970s and '80s; chapters on contemporary lesbian young adult fiction, contemporary gay young adult fiction, books about trans teens and characters, fiction featuring LGBTQ families, and utopian/dystopian young adult books with LGBTQ characters; and a brief conclusion. Detailed plot summaries of representative literary works constitute the bulk of Town's study, so LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction is most useful as a guide for identifying books with LGBTQ themes. Indeed, Town notes in the preface her hope that the book "will be of value to others like me, who teach future middle and secondary school teachers, and to those teachers, community members, and parents who want to find out more about the kinds of books that accurately and sympathetically treat the LGBTQ experience" (1–2). Such a guide may be especially useful for parents who take [End Page 212] an active role in selecting books read by their children and teens, and for teachers and others who cannot keep up with the proliferation of adolescent literature. Town's summaries provide thorough overviews of the books that she covers.
The introduction represents an ambitious effort to summarize the foundations of queer theory, starting with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet and Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, both published in 1990. Town neatly synthesizes different strands of queer theory, from groundbreaking work on gender performativity to more recent engagements with futurity and the queer child. The chapter then surveys queer theoretical work that Town finds especially relevant to the study of adolescent literature and early scholarship on LGBTQ young adult fiction. It provides a fine overview of the field, so I am sorry that Town makes so little use of this theory in the discussions of books surveyed in later chapters. Employing some of the queer theoretical ideas might have generated more analytical commentary and demonstrated the importance of her opening chapter.
Chapter 1 provides a particularly useful survey of some of the first young adult books to make LGBTQ characters or themes central to their narratives, and the following three chapters—on lesbian, gay, and transgender adolescent fiction, respectively—each cover a goodly range of books. For instance, chapters 2 and 3 summarize about a dozen novels each, while chapter 4 addresses both nonfiction discussions of trans youth and fictional works in which they appear as main characters. Next, chapter 5 features young adult novels focusing on main characters with parents who identify as gay or lesbian. Town notes the importance of reading fiction that represents diverse family dynamics for readers both gay and straight.
A strength of Town's book is its inclusion of very canonical works of queer adolescent fiction, such as John Donovan's I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. and Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind, alongside others that have received far less attention, such as Clayton Bess's Big Man and the Burn-Out and Sandra Scoppettone's Happy Endings Are All Alike. Town explains briefly in the preface that she chose the earlier volumes based on her assessment of their continued relevance and the more contemporary books based on their treatment of LGBTQ status as less a problem than an aspect of the main character. The admirable inclusion of more obscure titles promises to point readers to books that they might otherwise have missed. However, I would have liked Town to elaborate more in each chapter on why particular works were selected for inclusion over other titles that might have...