Lifesavers Aren't Always Round


John Clark checking in. This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re talking about the world of YA. When I began putting my thoughts together, a series of adjectives came to mind: healthy, responsive, daring, controversial, therapeutic, supportive, and life-changing.

I’ve been writing about the positive effects of YA fiction for more than ten years (see first link at the end of this column), and recently blogged about the delightful subversiveness of the genre in my July blog at Maine Crime Writers (see second link)

YA authors seem to be more diverse than adult fiction in my opinion and they’re certainly not bashful about including characters from the LBGTQIA spectrum, more often than not without any fanfare...They’re simply part of the story as they well should be. Our own Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect was published 14 years ago and remains one of my all time YA favorites. Since then, young adult authors have included a ton of interesting non-traditional characters, representing pretty much every orientation, ethnicity, medical/mental condition, religious, and political reality. The vast majority have done a stellar job of depicting them in ways which allow teens and tweens no matter where they live or what their individual situation might be, to read about someone like themselves.

We’ve been blessed in recent years by an influx of books written by first and second generation authors from all over the world. Having books written by so many ethnicly and religiously different people gives teens with similar backgrounds, or who live in near-white towns, an opportunity to enter worlds that resonate, or open whole new vistas. If you have not read The Firekeeper’s Daughter or Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley, please do so.

As a retired librarian and member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Association, I’m heartened by the outreach efforts by libraries and organizations like MWPA to expand access to teens no matter where they live so they can do an end-around on book banning. The Brooklyn (NY) Public Library is at the forefront of doing so (, while members of the MWPA raised more than $3200 to buy copies of Genderqueer and make them available after a Maine school district banned the book from a high school library.

Imagine you’re a transgender teen in a small town in a state where conservatism runs rampant. If that was your reality ten or fifteen years ago, where could you turn to in order to feel like you weren’t the only person in such a situation? Fast forward to today. A keyword search of Minerva, the largest online catalog in Maine, using transgender teen, pulls up 149 hits. Granted some are duplicates, but how reassuring such a result must be to that teen searching for something to validate their identity.

Granted, there are still lots of YA fluff books being published, and there should be. After all, teens need to have literary worlds that are pure mind candy. I’m simply grateful for all the books that provoke my mind.


I’m also grateful for authors who have pushed through their own pain to write books that have the potential to save a life. Two come to mind. Beth Fehlbaum’s Patience trilogy and her newest Find The Moon, are prime examples as is the just published My Heart Is Hurting by S.E. Reed.


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