September 24, 2012
YA novel with a gay hero to be published in 2014
by Nick Davies
The Guardian’s Allison Flood reports that Stranger, a post-apocalyptic young adult novel with a gay protagonist by American novelists Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, has been acquired by Viking Penguin, despite a major literary agent’s offer to represent the book only if they “straightwashed” the character in order to make the book more appealing to publishers. Stranger is told from five different points of view, including Yuki’s, a gay teenager who has a boyfriend, and also includes a lesbian couple as supporting characters.
In a post for PW’s Genreville blog last year, Brown explained that the refusal to make Yuki straight came down to taking a moral stance:
Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.
She and Smith also cited an analysis of YA fiction by Malinda Lo that showed that less than 1% of those novels over the past 40 years included LGBTQ characters in any capacity, and that the unnamed agent’s response to a gay protagonist was not unusual. Many writers Brown knows, she said, had similar disputes with agents and editors over minority characters — be they non-white, gay, or even disabled. With Stranger, Smith and Brown hope to speak directly to the minority audience; they want the novel “to be about the people who are so often left out … Latinos and African-Americans, Jews and Asian-Americans, gay boys and lesbian girls, multiracial teenagers and teenagers with physical and mental disabilities.”
While one YA novel with a gay hero probably won’t change the world, the fact that it will be published with Yuki’s story intact after so much nay-saying from the industry is at least a step in the right direction. Stranger is due out in winter of 2014.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.