Beyond Judy Blume: The Gatekeepers

Ashley McAllister
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Beyond Judy Blume logo

Authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon teamed up in late 2010 to create Diversity in YA Fiction, a website and book tour devoted to celebrating diverse stories in YA (young adult) lit. They toured the US in 2011, meeting up with other YA authors and enthusiasts to get a conversation going about the need for diversity in YA lit. Lo told the Atlantic that they were happy to have teens show up at their events, but "we were also very much targeting librarians, bloggers, educators, and other members of the book business with our tour. YA books are often delivered to teens via these gatekeepers, so we wanted to make sure that they were part of the diversity discussion."

As we all know, being in charge of what goes through any gate (or classroom, or library door) is a big responsibility that comes with a lot of power, and when it comes to young adult lit, gatekeeping is a very contentious issue. I'm sure you've heard that Judy Blume's books regularly make appearances on challenged-book lists and that queer young adult books have also been pulled from library shelves. While it's important to challenge and have thoughtful conversations about censorship in libraries, it's also essential that we celebrate the people who work really hard to bring characters with diverse identities to the spaces where young adult go to find books.

We're going to be talking with librarians and educators committed to the good fight during this series, but today I'm hoping that you'll share a story about the person who first introduced you to a YA book that changed the way you thought about identity, yourself, or the world. For me, it was my high school creative writing teacher, who introduced me to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a YA book that was instrumental in helping me to form a solid understanding of the affects of sexual assault. Looking back, I can see that her book laid the groundwork that I built my feminist consciousness on top of. I think about that book often, and I'm endlessly grateful to my creative writing teacher for introducing it to me during the time in my life that she did.

Who introduced you to your first earth-shattering young adult book? Share in the comments, and we'll be back next week to continue the conversation.


Oregon Humanities logoThis program was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

Hard Love

I discovered <i>Hard Love</i> by Ellen Wittlinger via a friend at summer camp. It's about a young man who connects with a lesbian girl his age through her zines. My summer camp friend read me the first excerpt from Marisol's zine from the top bunk while I was on the bottom, and I knew I had to read this book.

It was a really important book to me on a lot of levels - I related to Marisol, a queer girl who was unafraid to speak her truth but still just starting to navigate what her identity means. But I also related to John, doing the heartbreaking teenage thing of reading too far into small stuff (of course, my situation was swapped - I was reading too far into things with straight girls). John's relationship with his mom in this book was also probably the first time I conceived of parents/adults as deeply flawed, scared people - people who were also still navigating the way they relate to the world.

This book was also very important because of the literary kick it started me on. After I returned it to the library, I put in requests for <i>Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines</i> by Francesca Lia Block and Hilary Carlip as well as <i>Annie On My Mind</i> by Nancy Garden. I got looking online and ordered <i>A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution</i> and Media Whore, an actual handmade zine that bore resemblance in content to Bitch, which I started reading for unrelated reasons (I saw it in B&N and picked it up, truly, because the cover was pretty). The body-loving racism-interrogating queer-positive amazing ideas I was introduced to through this YA-inspired exploration was huge, HUGE stuff for the person I turned out to be.

<i>Hard Love</i> also contains lyrics from Ani DiFranco. I think I needed another nudge from my first love (the very girl I read too much into with, oh teenage RJ) before I actually listened to her music, but YES. <i>Hard Love.</i> Important book.

My high school girlfriend

My high school girlfriend introduced me to Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block in 9th grade. I read the series and went, "WHAT? There are actually books about gay people, and it isn't just subtext? Huzzah!" Is it strange that I was an avid reader who didn't find books with queer characters until I was already in a queer relationship? I laugh at myself over it now. The best thing about my high school relationship was that my girlfriend always illuminated my interests. She was passionate about art and literature, which I admired; sharing book recommendations with her put books into my hands that would not have been there until much later had I been on my own. Without her, I doubt I would have chosen to become a writer.

I think I would have to say

I think I would have to say Tangerine. It was a really interesting book for me. It made me think about race and culture and the lies we tell ourselves or the truths we don't want to think about. I can't remember who recommended it to me, but however it came to me, I am glad it did.

Anne of Green Gables

I was in 5th grade and my teacher Mrs.Foster suggested I read them. I can never thank her enough for the introduction. Anne changed people perceptions of what a "girl" could do or be. As weird as it is, I believe Anne might have been my first literary feminist inspiration.

In seventh grade, we had to

In seventh grade, we had to write a book report for English. My class was ushered to the library and told to pick a book we hadn't read before. Despite being an avid reader, I was lost. But like an archetype in a story, a kindly old librarian suddenly appeared at my elbow as if by magic and asked if I needed help. He asked me what kind of books I liked to read: I immediately answered "Fantasy." As if he'd had it in mind, he guided me into the shelves and handed me a book called <i>I Am Morgan le Fay</i> by Nancy Springer.

That book had a huge impact on me from the first page. As you might guess, it was a re-telling of the Arthurian legend from Morgan's point of view, from childhood to womanhood. It touched on many topics I had never before encountered in a book (or anywhere, really), such as rape, an un-idealized look at motherhood, and feminine power and sexuality in a male-dominated society. It was a good start to my beautiful friendship with feminist speculative fiction.

Thanks for the marvelous

Thanks for the marvelous posting ! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will come back sometime soon.

Great! Thanks!

Great! Thanks!

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