LGBT Themes in High School Summer Reading: What’s it to You?

by Casey Krosser


It always blows my mind to hear the close-minded reasons that the best books are banned.  Whenever I hear about a book being banned, I’m also instantly curious about it and think it must be worth reading.  It’s funny how book banning can have that effect.  However I also like to think that this isn’t happening in US high schools anymore, and that they’re working to incorporate more diversity into their English curriculums.  Which is why I was surprised to hear about Williamstown High School in New Jersey, where two books were pulled off the Honors English summer reading list because of lesbian and gay sex content. The books in question being Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and Tweak (Growing up on Methamphetamines) by Nic Sheff.

Enough parents complained and were shocked by the “inappropriate” passages in the books.  Following their complaints the school district apologized and then removed the books from the list. Even though the tenth grade students had had a choice of 74 different books, and some were marked with an asterisk to indicate “controversial content to content involving adult situations.”  The fact that there was a warning didn’t matter to the complaining parents, who weren’t interested in what their kids clearly chose to read.

I’d love to say that sex and LGBTQ content is nothing high school students can’t see on TV anyway; but that’s not true.  There’s not nearly as much lesbian or gay sex on TV as there is heterosexual sex.  Unless you’re watching HBO (ie. True Blood), and even there the sex ratio still favors heterosexuals.  So actually they can’t see it on TV; why not let them read about it? 

Now there is loads of fiction out there with LGBTQ characters as the main characters as well, which wasn’t the case with the two banned books.  Instead of focusing on removing books with a few sex scenes, maybe schools could focus on adding more books with LGBTQ main characters.

Hearing another negative story about books can give us an excuse to celebrate books.  Here are two suggestions of books with leadings ladies who love other ladies.  One of them has lots of sex scenes and the other one doesn’t, but both have lots of lesbian love!

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters:

A historical novel set in 1890s Victorian England; this book is a thrilling romp through history as well as a coming-of-age story.  I loved this book because of the beautiful imagery, the detailed characters, and of course the steamy scenes.  It was fascinating that the book also had real history about women who were male impersonators, the vaudeville theatre scene, as well as about life in Victorian England.  It tells the story of Nan King, a girl who works at an oyster restaurant, who falls in love with a male impersonator performer and is swept into an adventure to London with her.  It’s got romance, sex, adventure and history; what more could you want from a discussion-brewing novel?  It was also turned into a BBC film series, which was definitely not as sexy as the book.  Despite the fact that the two British actresses who played the main characters were very cute.

Ash by Malinda Lo:

Ash is basically a retelling of Cinderella, but with many twists as well as added magical creatures.  It’s also a coming-of-age story about a girl who falls in love and learns how to love herself as well.  The CinderelIa of this story, named Ash, is devasted by her father’s death and then forced to live with her evil stepmother.  Soon she escapes into her favorite fairy tales, and learns that some tales may not be as fictional as she thought.  She gets caught up in another world.  She also meets Kaisa, a huntress for the King, and she begins to change Ash’s life forever.  Cue the adorable, budding lesbian teen romance…  This might be a bit YA for the high school level and above, but it’s perfect for middle school or for those who embrace fairytales at any age like I do.  I haven’t read it yet, but there’s also a recently published prequel book called Huntress. It’s another YA lesbian romance fairytale that takes place in the same world as Ash.

And let’s not forget some of the more well known books like Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker!  There’s tons more books out there.  I’m hopeful that more books with LGBTQ themes will be on future high school reading lists.  Even if that doesn’t happen, these books apply to all ages and are worth a read.


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