A young adult novel's hero is allowed to remain gay, after all

Illustration for article titled A young adult novels hero is allowed to remain gay, after all

Almost exactly a year ago, all right-thinking people were upset by the fact that a prominent literary agent told two beloved authors that they needed to remove a gay character from their young-adult novel — or just turn him straight. The good news? Now Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith has gotten picked up by Viking Penguin, with Yuki's sexuality intact.

Top image: post-apocalyptic city by Michael Lokner/Flickr.

According to the Guardian, the novel will come out from Viking in spring 2014, with Yuki still in there, along with a lesbian couple who are supporting characters. Brown tells the Guardian that they were never tempted to "straight-wash" the characters because they wanted this book to be about the people that most young-adult books usually leave out. And she said that she'd heard from lots of other authors and editors who reported similar attempts to remove LGBT or minority characters from YA fiction. Said Brown to the Guardian:

We noticed that while there are lots of excellent realistic books about the troubles and difficulties of being a minority, there was very little fun, escapist fiction about teenage wizards or vampires or mutants who aren't white and straight. And of what little there was, most had those characters as sidekicks to the straight white protagonist. So the many teens we knew who preferred fantasy almost never got to read about heroes like themselves," she said. "We didn't do this to fulfil some imaginary quota, but because we wanted to write about teenagers like the real ones we know, [and] making gay characters straight would have gone against the entire reason why we wrote the book in the first place.


And she cited a statistical analysis of American YA novels by Malinda Lo, which found that fewer than 1 percent had any LGBT characters, even in a supporting role. More details at the link. [Guardian]

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To be fair, those original agents were just doing their job: to make the book as marketable as possible. Not that they should have had final say in the matter (the author needs to decide whether it would affect the story/tone/message they were trying to deliver), but the agents have a duty to their author to make the book sell. You can't exactly blame them for making the smart choice. However, it's definitely a good thing that another company is prepared to make the good choice.

I'm glad that the book will be published, and I hope that it is successful enough to convince other agents to publish gay characters and other less represented groups, because having decent role models (even fictional) has helped people to be more open about themselves in the past, and surely will again.