astern: illustration from Lane Smith and Dr Seuss's HOORAY FOR DIFFENDOOFER DAY (Big Brother is Reading)
[personal profile] astern
As probably most everyone reading this knows, Monday was the announcement of the ALA awards! This is basically my Oscars. I have been reading a ton of books in preparation (although I haven't read nearly as many winners as I'd hoped- way to go, DARK HORSES) and I was really excited. So I'm really disappointed that there are two things that jumped out to me as problematic.

I don't mean problematic as in "I disagree." I disagree that Hush didn't get at least a Printz honor, but I understand it. I disagree with the choice of A Sick Day for Amos McGee for the Caldecott, but I can see how people would choose that. But two things rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, while I think Terry Pratchett deserves many awards, I'm not really sure he deserves the Edwards specifically. And second, the distribution of awards for the Stonewall confuses me.

[personal profile] deborah and I talked about these yesterday, and she's helpfully made a bunch of posts about the first. In short, the Edwards is an award that's essentially a Lifetime Achievement in YA award, which only recognizes authors with multiple books from five years ago or more. The question both of us have is whether or not Pratchett has written enough specifically in the YA genre and specifically with that time period in mind. Giving him the award now, they can't acknowledge books like Nation, and have to point to several of his adult books instead. And yes, I completely understand why they gave it to him now- but that doesn't mean it doesn't bother me. And you should really read Deborah's posts if you want to hear more.

The second thing that's really bothering me is the breakdown of the Stonewall Award. This is the inaugural year for the Stonewall Award, dedicated to "English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience." This year's committee chair, Lisa Johnston, says:
The strength of society is diversity, we think. They need to be reading about people who are different from themselves. The ones who are perhaps going to identify as LGBTQ person are comforted by reading about people who are like they are. Friends of GLBT, especially teenagers, are comforted by this, they learn a lot.


Generally, the first year sets the tone for an award. It aims to show the range of what books are acceptable as winners. If you look at the first years of other awards, they cover a wide range of books. For example, in 2000, the first year the Printz was awarded, the prize went to a person of color (male) who wrote about a high school student in jail, written in screenplay format from the boy's point of view. The honor books included a first-person book about rape (female POV, female author), a Lambda-winning book about queerness (from a straight female perspective, by a straight author), and a British fantasy about a young boy dealing with man who may or may not have been an angel (male author).

2001, the first year of the Sibert Award, was similarly diverse, in both topic and format. The winner was a fairly traditional young adult biography- engagingly written, but straightforward, with in-depth citations. The honor books included a narrative telling of the quest for the Longitude Prize; a glossy middle-grade narrative with plenty of full-page photographs; a photo picturebook about an expedition with penguins; and a graphic novel about reality TV and AIDS.

The distribution of award and honor recipients in both cases sets up the perception that anything good within the field can win, because the award is designed for a wide variety of books. And it worries me that, with the books that were chosen for the 2011 prize, the Stonewall Award doesn't set the tone as those have.

This year the committee selected four honors and one winner. The honors are Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; Love Drugged by James Klise; Freaks and Revelations by Davida Willis Hurwin; and The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. The winner is Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher.

I haven't read all of these books. In fact, I haven't read any but Will Grayson, although hearing about them via this award has motivated me to put a hold on them in the library. That's fantastic, and doing everything this award is supposed to do: raise reader awareness of great books which deal with queer characters. It acknowledges that the mainstream awards do not specifically pay attention to a specific marginalized group, and specifically seeks to rectify that by highlighting the best books in the genre. Just so we're clear, I think that is a fantastic goal.

But it really bothers me that, unless the book summaries are drastically lying to me (and if they are, please tell me, I would very much like to be wrong!), there aren't books about the experience of two people who identify as female in a relationship together.

(WGWG, Freaks and Revelations, and Love Drugged deal with one or more queer male characters. The Boy in the Dress deals with a boy who enjoys cross-dressing. Almost Perfect deals with a straight boy dating a girl who he discovers is biologically male.)

To be clear, I do think it's important that the award goes to the best books. But "best books" doesn't exist in a vacuum. That's why the Stonewall exists: because the books for LGBTQ teens deserve their own attention, and because the ALA is making a great move toward making sure they're better serving an under-served population. And I don't think they're adequately serving that marginalized community if they've chosen five books to recognize, but none of them acknowledge any type of lesbian or bisexual female experience.

For what it's worth, I can think of at least two books about the relationship between teen girls (A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield) that were strong, engaging YA reads published in 2010. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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astern: illustration from Lane Smith and Dr Seuss's HOORAY FOR DIFFENDOOFER DAY (Default)
Amy Stern

February 2012

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