Another installment of my Books I Love series!
Julie Anne Peters writes primarily YA books about underrepresented topics and unusual protagonists in the contemporary world. I've enjoyed many of her books from lesbian characters' perspectives, and some of her books include gay characters or transgender characters. One of the most special things about Julie Anne Peters is that her books don't lie to you. They present the sometimes harsh realities of LGBT teens: Yes, sometimes your parents kick you out. Yes, sometimes you experience homophobia or transphobia. Yes, sometimes people are horrible to you. Yes, sometimes you can suffer from internalized oppression. And yes, sometimes there is a way out, but it isn't easy. I appreciate that she doesn't rose-color her characters' experiences, though sometimes that means reading her books is depressing. That said, there is some determined hope going on as well, and despite all the darkness, I could still see the light at the end of the tunnel in her characters' lives.
Some of her books that I recommend:
Nick has two moms--well, technically he has Mom and Jo, lesbian parents whom he loves very much. But of course he deals with classmates who don't understand, who think he must be gay because his parents are, etc. The real trouble begins when he gets older and his parents split up. Problem is, since Mom and Jo were never "legally" married, that leaves Jo with absolutely NO rights with regards to visitation for Nick . . . to Nick's own dismay. This book deals realistically with the trials and tribulations inherent in alternative family life, and it highlights how much unnecessary heartbreak results from society's refusal to protect gay people's families with the rights heterosexuals receive automatically.
In a small town, it's difficult being the only lesbian. A girl who goes by the name "Mike" is Coalton's only gay girl (though she has a gay guy friend), and that makes it very unlikely that she'll find someone to have a relationship with if she wants to stay in town. She likes softball and is good at plumbing and does a lot of typically boyish things, and even though her peers and the townspeople in general don't really "get" her, she's never felt like an outcast. Coalton is "home" and she belongs. But then she gets a crush on a straight girl: Xanadu, who's been transplanted into the town as basically a punishment. Fascinated, Mike tries pursuing Xanadu, but all Xanadu wants to do is pursue hot guys who are jerks to both of them. Unfortunately, she strings Mike along just enough to keep a glimmer of hope alive in her dreams. Mike has to figure out what to do with her unrequited love before her unrealistic expectations and her broken heart lead her to follow in her father's footsteps. This book expertly tackles the subject of being in love with someone who can't love back.
Holland has the supposed dream life--hot boyfriend, great college prospectives, awesome social life. And then a very out gay girl shows up in school and Holland realizes they have something in common--something she didn't even know she had the capacity to feel--and suddenly she knows why her dream life never felt like her dream. And unfortunately, some of her other dreams begin to drift out of reach in her pursuit of the girl she loves. The book is wonderfully and powerfully written, and so emotionally REAL--any teen, gay, straight, or bi should read this, and perhaps a lot of adults wouldn't have the patience for the "who am I?" routine but some will still relate to it. It helps gay teens not only by providing characters like themselves but by being realistic about the possible outcomes of coming out--i.e., you WILL experience rejection and you WILL be denied certain things for the rest of your life if you commit yourself to being true to your orientation. I think it's important that gay kids are provided with a story that depicts what could actually happen to them and why they may want to do it anyway--reassuring them that though the road might be bumpy, it will ultimately be for the best . . . just not particularly easy anymore. I love that there was no sugar-coated ending.
This was a book told from the point of view of a girl with a transgender sibling. Make no mistake, it's not the trans girl's story; it's her sister's. I think reading it would still help young trans people understand that they're not alone, but it's more focused on the family relationship and the experience of having a family member who's trans. The writing style is realistic and the characters are well-written. I especially appreciated that Regan--Luna's sister--is supportive but not unrealistic; she sometimes gets angry at her sister and misgenders her as a brother, experiencing selfish teenage thoughts and getting annoyed that keeping this secret and being supportive is causing friction in her own relationships. Telling the story from a family member's perspective helped because it showed the family issues in first person--the voice is mainly sympathetic but not empathetic, which is an important difference. The reader can really pick up on Luna's frustration and deep-seated desire to be recognized as female, and it is realistic in that her transgender status is shown to not be the same as being a transvestite or being a person with a fetish or sexual quirk. In Luna's case, she experienced herself as a girl since childhood, and many trans kids have thought of themselves as a different gender from the one they were designated since they were old enough to know what gender is. That's reflected in Luna's experience--she liked Barbie and taking the role of the mother while playing house, and even though her father pushed her toward baseball and her mother was in denial about her being trans, she always knew who she was. This is the story of her trying to come out and embrace the woman she really is--and the story of the sister who helps her realize her dreams.
There are other books by this author that are about non-LGBT outsider experiences as well, but these are my favorites. She has another book coming out in June entitled Lies My Girlfriend Told Me. It's going on my to-read list!