Natalie French ’17
Project Title – Queering Young Adult Literature
Mentor – Paula White
The “young adult” genre is relatively new, having an official title only since the 1960s. However, in the past fifty years, it has become one of the most popular and expansive genres on the market. Between the years of 2013 and 2014, young adult sales increased by 22.4 percent. The goal of young adult authors, and young adult readers, is to craft a world to which teens and young adults can relate. Teenagers exist in a liminal space, somewhere between childhood and adulthood. The problems that they face are unique, as, developmentally, they are developing a sense of identity independent of their family and friends. The literature with which teens interact during this period of exploration has been shown to be highly influential in their own sense of identity and self-concept. Teens turn to literature to find themselves reflected and validated. As Rudine Sims Bishop points out, “when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read… they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” This devaluation is felt by many minoritized groups, including LGBT youth. As of 2016, roughly 3.8 percent of American adults are estimated to identify as LGBT, with an even higher number—seven percent—of American youth identifying as LGBT. Ideally, young adult literature would reflect this growing number. However, while over 1,500 young adult books were published in 2014, only forty-seven of those books contained an LGBT main character. In a society that often treats LGBT youth as imaginary or “broken,” multifaceted representation in young adult literature is more important than ever. LGBT youth experience exponentially higher rates of bullying, mental illness, and suicide than their heterosexual peers—a problem that more accessible, relatable LGBT representation could help solve.