So as some of you know, I started my last year of library school last week. This term I’m taking youth literature and collection development. This means that I’ll be writing plenty of essays and discussion board posts that can double as blog posts. 😉 This is one such post. The prompt was “three books that changed your life,” similar to Neil Gaiman’s video here. Without any further ado, the post!
I imagine many people are going to mention Harry Potter in their essays for this week and with good reason. This book series shaped the reading experience of millions. I first discovered the series when I was eight or nine. A teacher suggested it to me offhand and during one of our weekly trips to the grocery store I stopped by the books section to check it out. For weeks I would spend those trips with the books, finding the last place I’d read to and continuing on. I had always loved reading and had essentially demanded my grandmother to teach me to read as soon as I was old enough, but this was the first time that I felt gripped by a series of books. Harry Potter was my first fandom and allowed me the experience of growing up with the characters. I am confident I would not be the person I am today without those books.
Now, I know I would still be a queer person if it were not for this next book, but my dreams and goals would be different. When I was 17 or 18 my local library hired, for the first time, a teen librarian. I had only recently come out and she was the person who helped me start a local Gay Straight Alliance (in Butte, Montana this was a pretty big deal). She directed me to some queer books. The first one I read was Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez. This was a good story but I didn’t really see myself in it. Soon thereafter, I read Ash by Malinda Lo. This is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella with fairies and huntresses and the most soft, beautiful tone I have ever read in a book. Much like I had always enjoyed reading, I had been writing stories since my childhood. To that point, none of my stories had featured queer characters. I had written characters with my personality, my love of reading, and my dry sense of humor but it had never occurred to me to write a character who identified the same way I did because I had never seen it done before. I ended up renewing that book for an entire summer just so I could keep rereading it. Since then I have written almost nothing but queer stories and my desire to be the person that gives a queer kid a book with their identity represented has been a driving force.
The last book I want to talk about is Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. I discovered this book when I was about 24 and it was the first time I read a book about a genderfluid main character. That is not how I identify… to be fair, I’m not sure how I identify. Quick primer for those who don’t know: in my life, nonbinary is an umbrella term that generally covers any genders that don’t fall into the binary of man or woman. Genderqueer and genderfluid are both identities that generally fall under that umbrella, but it’s not true for everyone! Some genderfluid/genderqueer folks might not identify as enby (short for nonbinary). Make sure you check in with individuals before assuming identity categories. Anyway, this book happened at just the right time: I was watching Carmilla and falling in love with LaFontaine, a nonbinary character played by a nonbinary actor. I was discovering nonbinary vloggers on YouTube like Ash Hardell and Kaitlyn Alexander (the abovementioned actor). I was starting to realize many of my favorite characters and content creators didn’t fall into the gender binary and also that I really liked they/them pronouns (though she/her are also good). I’ve read and re-read Symptoms I-don’t-even-know-how-many times in the last two years. It has been a reminder that gender doesn’t have to look a certain way. The anxiety rep is also wonderful, which has been incredibly helpful as I’ve dealt with some of the worst anxiety of my life these past couple of years.
Okay, that got pretty personal. Don’t mind me, I’m just over here having feelings. Anyway, let me know if you’ve read any of these books or if you have any readalikes to recommend.