One of the thing that I was thinking about most during Pride week was the way that young people are interacting with LGBTQ+ culture. Since I’ve moved to New York, this has really hit me.
It started when I went to see Kinky Boots starring Brendon Urie. There were so many young fans who came there to see Brendon, but as soon as the drag queens came out on stage to dance, everyone flipped out. And that was the aspect of the performance that I heard most people buzzing about after the show: how incredibly talented and beautiful these queens were.
For the most part, young people are becoming more accepting of their own and others’ gender identity and sexual orientation. And YA reflects this change. Not onlythat, but YA has encouraged and embraced this new inclusivity. Major publishers are tweeting about and publishing and supporting people of many different genders and sexualities.
One of the most recent examples of this that I encountered was Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Carry On was conceived from a previous book Rowell wrote (Fangirl) which follows a young woman who writes fanfiction about a children’s series very similar to Harry Potter. Rowell liked the idea of this children’s series that she had written portions of for Fangirl that she wrote a whole novel. And so Carry On was born.
It had been a while since I’d read children’s fantasy, and it just mead me really happy. It reminded me of why I loved reading as a kid, and the whole time I read it, I wondered how my life would be different if I had read this when I was a kid.
In many ways, Carry On reads like a kids’ fantasy novel, but it often categorized as YA. One of the things I found most interesting about the book was the way that the book perfectly blended children’s and YA literature. Rowell perfectly weaves together this world-ending adventure with the tender story of two boys realizing they’re in love with each other. She not only shows that love and adventure are not incompatible; she also reimagines the classic coming of age and coming out stories.
She displays the ways in which each of the characters have rich and complex livesand are dealing with what seems like a million issues all at once, and their sexuality is just one element in a very large mix. Each character placed this element at different levels of importance, and they prioritized or ignored other situations in their lives.
Even more than that, it felt like Rowell was so in touch and reverent toward the original source material of Harry Potter but also tackled the issues she encountered both in this text and her own in a very different way, namely with the way that she dealt with the question of what it means to be the chosen one, specifically the ways in which this pressure affects how someone identifies themselves.
And it did all of this while showing the ways in which these characters—no matter their race or sexuality or chosen-one-status—were just characters. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing, but Rowell had this incredibly diverse cast of characters, and they all had their strengths and flaws, and it was such an amazing text to read during this week.
I can’t even imagine how life-changing it would have been to grow up reading this book, to see such a wide variety of relationships and characters and problems. It just makes it all seem so real and all of the characters’ ways of dealing with the world are seen as valid.