Sunday, April 11, 2010

Guest Post: Bi This Book!

Today's guest post comes from Lauren Bjorkman, author of My Invented Life. She's here to talk about the very underrepresented topic of bisexuality in YA lit, and to give suggestions on books to read. Welcome to our blog, Lauren!


Bisexual characters, especially bi protagonists are unusual in teen lit. A visit to Lee Wind’s website—I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?—makes this clear. Only eight out of 200+ GLBT titles there have bisexual characters or themes. Until recently, the in-betweens hovered on the fringe of the literary rainbow world. For instance, the Lambda Literary Award only began recognizing bisexual lit in 2006, though the award started in 1988. Here are a few of the myths bis have had to overcome--

They go for everything that moves.

They’re not as committed to the gay movement “real” gays.

They prefer to date the opposite sex so they can “pass” as straight.

They’re going through a transition on their way to becoming gay.

They’re confused and indecisive.

Here’s the cool part! Two weeks ago, I bought a stack of bi teen novels and read them all from cover to cover. They were universally excellent, deep, and heart-warming. Some made me laugh aloud. Besides that, they blasted these stereotypes and crazy ideas right out of the water. Check out my book recommendations at the end of the post.

When I started writing My Invented Life, I knew little about bisexuality. In fact, I didn’t set out to write about bisexuality at all. My theme was sisters and the secrets that come between them. But in the midst of planning my novel, I went to my high school reunion. The drama around certain classmates that came out inspired me to use sexual orientation as the wedge between my fictional sisters. When I shared my premise with my critique group, one member dropped out. Which meant I was onto something.

As part of my research, I read a number of gay and lesbian novels, and discovered David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. Some call his setting gaytopia—a world where being queer is not an issue. I loved this! I wanted to write a fun and light-hearted book, too. So I made the main conflicts in My Invented Life about competition between the two sisters.

After I started writing, friends and acquaintances asked me about my WIP. When I told them about my queer characters, they surprised me with their personal stories. Women who where married to the opposite sex—some I’d known for years, some I barely knew at all—came out to me for the first time. I’m bisexual. I had a lesbian phase in college. I had a crush on a woman once. I find women attractive but it’s easier to be with a man.

Around then, I learned about the Kinsey scale. Kinsey considered sexual orientation a continuum rather than an either/or situation. This made so much sense to me! Of course, I had to have a character bring up his research. My characters uses the dashboard of a car instead of a scale, and places herself somewhere around the glove compartment. And so my story evolved. One blogger, Shelf Elf, reviewed My Invented Life as: funny + depth = reading bliss. I hope you agree.

Here are some other bi-books for your TBR pile!

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

Three girls—Nina, Avery, and Mel—have been best friends since childhood. Nina leaves town to attend a leadership program the summer before senior year. While she’s gone, Mel and Avery have a sleep over that leads to romance between them. Mel has always known she was a lesbian, but kept it to herself. Avery learns that she can be attracted to girls for the first time. When Nina returns, things go from complicated to VERY complicated. Despite the drama, the story stays sweet and funny. Nina, Mel, and Avery are wonderfully flawed, and yet likeable. I enjoyed the tender romance, as well as the friendship story.

“Hello,” I Lied by M.E. Kerr

This one hooked me from the first sentence. Lang is a gay teen in love with a twenty year-old actor, who loves him back. The story takes place during a summer when Lang lands a job helping his mother as an assistant to a fascinating and elusive rock star. The rock star insists on throwing Lang together with a mysterious daughter of another rock star. And though Lang is securely gay, he falls for her. The gay romance and bi romance are both beautiful and believable. And talk about lyrical and poignant writing! This one differs from the others because it focuses on a bi relationship that looks allegedly heterosexual to the outside world.

Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger

This sequel to Geography Club has a unique feature. In the first half, Hartinger tells the story from one character’s POV. When you finish, you flip the book over and read from a different POV. The feisty bisexual Min narrates the second half. She’s on a quest to find new romance, and succeeds while working as zombie extras on a movie set. But her new girlfriend won’t come out to her friends. Out-spoken Min has trouble accepting this. Hartinger’s style is funny and matter-of-fact. He creates adorable, good-hearted, and authentically teen characters.

Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz

This debut novel has a lot going on. Like in The Bermudez Triangle, there are three friends who have been friends forever. Unlike Maureen Johnson, who writes in the third person, Diaz writes in the first person from each of their POVs. Tara, a hitherto straight girl, falls for a girl outside their triangle. The romance is sweet and wonderful. And Tara quickly accepts that she can have romantic feelings towards girls as well as boys. The other plotlines surround friendship, self-confidence, and abandonment. I especially loved how these three girls stand up for one another when the going gets tough.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

This book came out in 2001, breaking some serious ground. It is a quintessential coming of age story. Nic has always had crushes on boys until the summer she meets Battle at a summer school for gifted children. Battle is a beautiful Southern belle and daughter of a minister. Nic dissects these new feelings with the ardor of an archeologist—the profession she hopes to pursue as an adult. But when romance blooms, she doesn’t stop dissecting. This puts a strain on her new relationship. At the end of the story, Nic still hasn’t decided whether she is lesbian or bisexual, but feels okay not labeling herself. I really loved Nic’s observant “field notes” scattered throughout the story.

Love and Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger

Marisol defers her first year of college to write a novel. She moves into a cramped apartment with a friend who brings home strays, works in a rundown cafĂ© on Harvard Square, and enrolls in a novel writing class. Right away, she falls for her stunning writing instructor, Olivia Frost. Their budding relationship starts of romantic, but quickly goes down hill when Olivia’s dark-side comes through.

I included this sequel to Hard Love because Ellen Wittlinger writes amazing novels. If you haven’t read Parrotfish yet, you should! But I hesitated. Because this was the only book in my stack where the bisexual character turned out to be an unsympathetic character. Perhaps she isn’t even bisexual. But I decided to leave it in so I could ask this question. Should authors only portray GLBT characters in a positive light? Or can they be messed up, or even villainous? Why or why not?

Here are some cool websites and a non-fiction book to check out--

I’m Here. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read?

Alex Sanchez’s list of GLBT books

Bi Magazine

Bi any other name: bisexual people speak out


Danika the Lesbrarian said...

Thanks so much for this post! Bi literature is definitely underrepresented, which is especially sad when so many teens are coming out as bi and aren't able to find books that reflect their experiences.

MissAttitude said...

I was just thinking about how bisexuality isn't portrayed much in YA literature (I don't read much adult fiction so I'm not sure how that pans out).

I also love the idea of gaytopia. I haven't read Boy Meets Boy, but I want to. Gaytopia is also addressed in Ash, it's no big deal that Ash is in love with Kaisa. Quite refreshing.

Thank you for this list, I've added some books to my tbr pile!

Memory said...

What a great post! I'm adding all these to my list.