Earlier this year, an article in the New York Times described recent neuroscience research that showed that reading enables us to better understand and empathize with other people. Dr. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, told the New York Times: "Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life."
Of course, any dedicated reader (or writer) could have told you the same without the research, but it's lovely to have the facts to back up our instincts.
The ability of the printed page (or the ereader) to act as a doorway into another world, where I can vicariously experience someone else's life -- safely, freely -- has always been the reason that reading is one of my favorite activities. For teens (or anyone, really) who is living in a real world where they're unable to be themselves, or where they're struggling to figure out who that self is at all, reading can be a wonderful way to imagine different possibilities. That's why books can be so important to teens coming to terms with their sexual orientations, particularly if they're not in environments that are supportive to them.
When I was asked to compile a list of ten young adult novels about LGBTQ characters for The Huffington Post's series on anti-bullying (to combat the negative ideas about being gay that bullies often spread), I reached out to a group of librarians and bloggers who are working on the Queer Bookshelf, a comprehensive bibliography of LGBTQ YA fiction. I wanted to make sure that this list was representative -- as much as possible -- of all the letters in the QUILTBAG spectrum. So this list contains books about lesbians, bisexual girls and boys, gay boys, transgender teens, and queer and questioning teens. I focused on books with a positive outlook, and I aimed for a mix of "classics" and new books while also seeking out characters of color.
I hope that queer teens will find a book for them in this list, and if they don't (or even if they do), I highly recommend they stop by their library and talk to the librarian, because there are many more books about LGBTQ teens being published today than can fit in a list of ten. Thanks to Michael Cart, Elizabeth Chapman, Erica Gillingham, KT Horning, Daisy Porter, Nancy Silverrod, and Lee Wind for their suggestions. The final list was made by me. Happy reading!