Fiction that incorporates gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning of heterosexuality itself (GLBTQ) themes and characters has been noted among the most widely censored novels for young adults (ALA, 2007; Finnessy, 2002; Karolides, 2002). Despite many teachers’ and librarians’ anxiety about even recommending a novel that includes homosexual characters, more novels with GLBTQ characters and themes are receiving significant literary accolades and awards. Furthermore, acclaimed researcher and young adult literary historian, Michael Cart (2004) notes that reading young adult literature, “the quintessential literature of the outsider,” provides “the lifesaving necessity of seeing one’s own face reflected in the pages of a good book and the corollary comfort that derives from the knowledge that one is not alone” (p. 46). For GLBTQ youth, this is exceptionally important given the heteronormative structures in place to monitor and control sexual and gender identities and expressions.
With this in mind, I utilized a dynamic and multi-faceted analytic approach, including interpretivist, textual discursive, and literary analyses, to examine seventeen GLBTQ themed novels for images, characterizations, and messages depicted about nonconforming sexualities and gender identities. I sought to answer three primary questions: (1) What are the networks or systems of power that are unveiled as inhibiting the identities of the characters? (2) How are the identities of these characters constructed? (3) What messages do the texts convey regarding nonconforming sexual and gender identities?
I found that the authors largely created dynamic, three-dimensional characters with complex histories and narratives that affirm and validate GLBTQ identities. Moreover, I observed two overarching set of factors: one that encompasses culturally mediated forces, which include cultural institutions and practices, persecution, and social networks, and a second that emphasizes a critical modernist construction of identity. Additionally, I found a progressive-oriented didacticism pervasive through the texts that positively portrays GLBTQ characters, denounces homophobia, frequently challenges heteronormative assumptions and behaviors, and instructs readers about various issues and conflicts common to GLBTQ youth.