In many ways, Kicked Out is a YA book, though on the whole it resists being boxed in and tied to any one genre. ‘Kicked Out’ is the book I desperately wanted when I was a homeless teenager, and so while of course I wanted the book to appeal to all readers, I wanted to specifically make sure I didn’t in anyway alienate teens who might come across the book, beyond that, I wanted it to specifically speak to them. There is a special introduction/dedication ‘to the youth reading this book’ where I said:
“There are lots of people whom I hope will read this book: parents, educators, counselors and more. But the most important readers this book will ever have are you. This book is more for you than anyone else.”
When I say I wanted the book to specifically speak to LGBTQ teens I don’t mean that I wanted to in anyway limit the content to conform to some arbitrary definition of what equals “age appropriate.” Quite the contrary, I wanted it to be real. I know that as a youth my friends and I was an expert at seeing through the bullshit that adults pushed in our face. The last thing I want to do is be the kind of adult that as a teen I saw as phony, condescending, and completely out of touch.
I was particularly troubled by an article I read last week where it was being argued that YA as a genre has become too “dark” full of violence, and abuse and that many of the books within the genre are not appropriate for teen readers. Essentially the author was arguing for censorship under the umbrella of what she calls “parenting.” I was left with deeper concerns. As a youth, the only LGBTQ teen representation that I found was positive, it was parents inviting their daughter’s girlfriend over for dinner, and baking cookies for their son’s GSA at school. It was about as far from my life as I could imagine. I will always remember how acutely painful it was to not be able to find my life reflected in any books. It’s part of why I was so honored that the American Library Association recognized Kicked Out as a top book for LGBTQ youth this year, and why I’m so excited about being part of the NYPL event next weekabout LGBTQ YA books
I was thrilled this weekend to come across Sherman Alexie’s beautiful essay titled ‘Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood’ about the power of bringing reality into the YA genre and responding to the concerns raised in the above mentioned article. In this essay he talks about how books have the power to speak to youth, how he wishes desperately that the books he’d written, and all the others critiqued had been available to him when he needed them. In general, identified incredibly strongly with all that Alexie wrote, but particularly this last paragraph:
“And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.” – Sherman Alexie
Teens don’t live easy lives. The “dark” themes that some think are “inappropriately” featured in some YA books are the reality of what teens have lived lived through, and the world they awake to every day. I remember how desperate I was to see any book that looked anything like my life and how devastated I was to never find it. Youth consistently write me letters come up to me at events to thank me, and talk about how what speaks to them most about ‘Kicked Out’ is the honesty. Again and again people talk about seeing their lives and their community reflected back to them for the first time in these pages. How dare adults try to take that truth away from teen readers.