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Philip Ellis

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It Gets Better: Recommended Reading for LGBT Teens

Posted: 10/25/2011 3:55 pm

I can't speak for teens today, but in the early Noughties I can remember feeling quite under-represented in the fiction available in my school library and on the shelves of my local bookshops. Where were the stories featuring gay characters? Was I the only one who wanted to read about other people like me? I had to really look hard for fiction in mainstream publishing that featured gay characters who weren't some variation of the same self-loathing literary creation.

I was 14 when the televised version of Tipping the Velvet made the entire nation blush and got people talking. Soon after, I bumped into Sarah Waters in a Starbucks in Camden and was too star-struck to tell her how much I admired her. Looking back now, I can say somewhat cynically that there wasn't anything progressive about girl-on-girl kissing proving popular with viewers, but to my teenage self it was hugely encouraging. Here was a story that dealt directly with gay experience, and not in the half-embarrassed way that a lot of television at the time treated its token gay characters.

Efforts are being made nowadays to make sex education more inclusive in schools (a hot topic I will sidestep for the moment). And while knowing the facts of life is important to anyone growing up, whatever their orientation, I feel it is also important for young people to find stories and characters that they can identify with outside the broad archetypes found in TV shows such as Glee. Here are a few of my own suggestions; please feel free to submit your own in the comments section.

'A Spot Of Bother' By Mark Haddon
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Readers may be more familiar with Haddon's debut novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but this more conventionally told story has a lot to offer, too. A Spot of Bother is told from the perspectives of each member of a middle class family in the lead-up to a wedding. Refreshingly, the fact that a central character is gay is accepted as a given, and his romantic struggles are treated with just as much humour and respect as those of everybody else.
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