In the Queer Lit community, we talk a lot about mirrors. We encourage (and rightly so) accurate representation so that teenagers can find themselves in books and understand that they aren’t alone.
For me, this analogy works well when I’m talking about contemporary books, but I’ve always thought of fantasy as more of a scrying glass than a mirror.
As a teen, I was a purely escapist reader. I nearly always read fantasy and occasionally branched out to Sci-Fi or Historical. I never read contemporary and I think there was a part of me that wasn’t interested in seeing myself reflected in a book. Like a lot of teenagers, I didn’t like myself and I didn’t like being in high school. I didn’t want to read books that took place in schools, with character archetypes I knew too well from my own experience, who said mean things and worried about exams and their parents fights. I wanted to get out, be someone else, and I wanted a book that would take me away.
At the same time, even as an early teen, I had an inkling that there was something a bit different about me. I was never very interested in the boys at my school. My first recognizable crush was on a friend with a tattoo (how revolutionary!), dark brown eyes and a wicked smile. I never acted on my crush and honestly, I never felt compelled to. It was too real, too intense and I wasn’t ready to deal with an escalation of that feeling. My family was quite conservative, and while I never thought they would throw me out, I wanted to figure out what I was feeling before I gave it name and told other people.
Reading about queer characters in books and in fanfiction helped me figure so many things out. In the early 00s, there unfortunately weren’t many books with queer characters on the page. But badass female heroines were finding shelf-space and the fandom community put them in every imaginable pairing. I read slash, fem-slash, poly pairings, ménages … all populated by the fierce characters I fell in love with in the pages of fantasy novels. Those female heroines weren’t “me.” They lived in castles, they fought dragons or repaired space-ships.
The idea that I could have any kind of relationship I wanted was so bright, so different, so alluring that I think reading them in contemporary novels would have been too much for me. I would have felt like there was something wrong with me for not being able to act on what I was beginning to realise I wanted. So instead, I read fantasy, and it let me study those ideas like the sun in eclipse. It hurt to look directly at them, but when I saw them reflected, I was entranced.
There are a lot more options for teens today! Here are a few of my recommendations for speculative LGBTQIA literature by ladies.
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Release Date: February 8 2016
Cas Leung has trained sea monsters since she could walk, teaching them to defend ships in pirate-infested waters. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: June 17 2014
Amara is never alone. She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes. All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.
Unicorn Tracks by ME!
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: April 21 2016
After an attack drives her from her home, Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business. When a Unicorn Naturalist and his daughter come to Nazwimbe to study, Mnemba is employed to guide them. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
Pantomime by Laura Lam
Publisher: Strange Chemistry / Re-release Tor
Release Date: February 5 2013 / November 17 2016
Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. So, reinvented as ‘Micah Grey’, Gene joins the circus. As an aerialist, she discovers the joy of flight – but the circus has a dark side.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt
Release Date: September 29 2015
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesa Lia Block
Publisher: Square Fish
Release Date: August 27 2013
Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety.
Adaptation by Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little Brown
Release Date: September 18 2012
Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction.
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