This guest post is part of the LGBT Teen Novels Week, hosted here.
For more information about the week, please head over here.
Please welcome James Dawson, author of Hollow Pike, who will talk to us today about queer characters in YA books.
I recently had the best email from a bookseller who had just finished Hollow Pike, my debut novel. she was thanking me for the inclusion of the three queer characters in the book. She said that when she was at school there weren’t any characters like her to relate to in books, and it was fantastic that today’s young adults were being represented in fiction.
If I may, allow me to introduce you to the characters she means. Hollow Pike sees a young Welsh girl called Lis arrive in the mysterious town of Hollow Pike where she is spellbound by the school outcasts Kitty, Delilah and Jack. Kitty and Delilah are a couple while Jack clearly hasn’t made his mind up whether he likes boys or girls yet.
The characters were vaguely based on people I knew at school, so their sexuality was a no-brainer. At my very ordinary school in West Yorkshire, a lot of young people were figuring it out. Those are experimental years. Some of us ended up gay, some ended up straight, a lot ended up somewhere in the middle, winding up in relationships with men and women – but then, as sixteen year olds, we were finding our way.
It makes sense to me, therefore, that a lot of young people are still finding their way and should be able to see themselves in the books they are reading. Something that I found hard back then was that LGBTQ relationships weren’t really presented as an option. You were straight or ‘wrong’. It would have been cool if there had been young gay or bi role models in films and TV shows and books for me to go, ‘ah he likes boys, so it’s probably OK that I do too.’ I have always been gay, but I might have figured it out sooner with more visible role models.
The main goal when writing Hollow Pike was to tell a cracking scary story, but I was determined that Kitty, Jack and Delilah would retain this element of ‘figuring it out’. These were never meant to be books about ‘coming out’. Issues books have their place, but I didn’t want it to be a sad, sad story about how hard it is to be young and queer. It is difficult, but being a teenager is always hard. In Hollow Pike, frankly, the characters have bigger things to worry about! What’s more, issues books often become ‘gay books’. I was gay and I wouldn’t have read a ‘gay book’ out of fear of having the shit kicked out of me. The hope is, that young readers will see Kitty, Jack and Delilah going about their business and simply think –‘ they’re OK, I’m OK too’.
But for this to really work, it needs to be on a much bigger scale than my lone book can achieve. We need more books, TV shows and films with queer characters front and centre. Not in a token, box-ticking way (no more sassy gay sidekicks, I implore you), but in presenting characters who are more than their sexuality.
I can’t wait for you to get your hands on Book Two – Book One has only begun to scratch the surface of these complex characters! Writers shouldn’t be scared to reflect diversity – we live in diverse times so all we’re doing is painting an accurate picture. If it seems that young queer people are in a minority it’s probably because they aren’t empowered to be more visible in schools. We can help overcome that. I’m so thrilled that both Attitude and Diva magazines have chosen to review Hollow Pike alongside Bliss and SFX, this is recognition that a very mainstream release from a major publisher can feature queer characters without becoming niche gay fiction.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – presenting young gay characters in the media is the best way to make being young and gay normal. Because it is.
Thank you James for this fantastic post - I can't agree more on the media needing to include the diversity which exists in real life!
Hollow Pike is already out in the UK
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