4 Debut YA Authors Center LGBTQIA+ Characters

In honor of Pride Month, these debut authors discuss their LGBTQIA+ themed YA books.

It’s Pride Month, and while there aren’t parades and in-person festivities this year, these four debut authors are celebrating the launch of their LGBTQIA+ themed YA novels. Here, they talk to SLJ about nostalgia, empathy, and finding joy in a pandemic.

 

You Should See Me in a Crown cover / Leah JohnsonLeah Johnson, You Should See Me in a Crown (June 2)

Describe your book in five words.

Funny. Joyous. Midwestern. Hopeful. Family-oriented (it has a hyphen so it counts as one word!).

What do you find most interesting about your main character(s)?

What I find most interesting about Liz is that despite the myriad of odds being stacked against her, at every turn she finds a way to be more engineering, more tenacious, more dedicated than she thought possible. She is soft and cautious, but also manages to be the type of resilient that often feels very tough to be—especially in times like these when it might be easier for her to harden herself instead. She could choose not to, of course, but she never does. So maybe what's most interesting to me is that I look up to a fictional character that I, myself, wrote? Who's to say!

It’s Pride month, though it may be hard to feel celebratory these days. How are you finding joy amidst the difficulties in the world?

I’m finding joy during quarantine by leaning into nostalgia. There’s something particularly joyous—a type of security, perhaps—in returning to a record you loved when you were 15, a movie you grew up watching, or a book you were obsessed with as a kid. So I watch The Mighty Ducks at least once a week, I’ve been rereading the Hunger Games series in preparation for the newest book, and spinning old Jonas Brothers music like it’s going out of style. Other than that, I'll be spending Pride working on my next novel—another exploration of black queer joy—Rise to the Sun, which will be out next year.

 

Lyla Lee, I’ll Be the One (June 16) I'll Be the One / Lyla Lee

Describe your book in five words.

K-pop. Romance. Queerness. Body Positivity.

What do you find most interesting about your main character(s)?

The main character, Skye, LOVES performing, which is something I had a hard time wrapping my head around since I tend to have extreme stage fright. I had to listen to a lot of music from queens like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Hyuna, Sunmi, and Chungha to immerse myself in her state of mind. Meanwhile, Henry, the love interest, gets stage fright and has to consciously work through it like I do despite the fact that he lives a more public life as a celebrity. With both characters, I tried to make them as realistically complex as possible, so they're both strong and confident in some ways but also still vulnerable in others, like a lot of teens are.

It’s Pride month, though it may be hard to feel celebratory these days. How are you finding joy amidst the difficulties in the world?

It's definitely a hard time to feel celebratory, since I expected I'll Be the One to come out during a time of summer festivities and Pride parades. Nothing is certain right now and admittedly, finding joy has been pretty difficult. But I've been trying my best to stay positive and be present/grateful in my day-to-day life. And I've been finding joy in listening to a lot of new, upbeat music, working on new projects, and keeping in touch with friends near and far.

 

Where We Go From Here / Lucas RochaLucas Rocha, Where We Go From Here (June 2)

Describe your book in five words.

Friendship. Love. Stigma. HIV. Happiness.

What do you find most interesting about your main character(s)?

There are three main characters in this story—Ian, Victor, and Henrique—and they are quite different from each other. But I think that all of them have the power to see themselves in each other—some more quickly than others—and to understand that what happens to one of them could also happen to the other two. That empathy and that sense of family they hold are what make them so interesting to me.

It’s Pride month, though it may be hard to feel celebratory these days. How are you finding joy amidst the difficulties in the world?

I make sure to be surrounded—even if only online these days—by people who I love and who love me back. I think that, when we are able to be amidst these people, even when we are socially distancing and having to deal with a lot not only regarding this pandemic, but regarding life as a LGBTQIA+ person, our lives become a little lighter and easier. Other strategies that I use to find joy in the middle of chaos are: reading a lot, binging TV shows, doing some exercises in my room while listening to pop music, making video calls to my friends to talk about random things—the theme of the last one was: How do whales breastfeed their offspring?—and to keep working on my future novels.

 

Rebecca Sullivan, Night Owls and Summer Skies (June 30) Night Owls and Summer Skies / Rebecca Sullivan

Describe your book in five words.

Summer. Cute. Family. Gay. Friendship.

What do you find most interesting about your main character(s)?

I like that even when it seems the world is against them, with Emma being stuck at camp and her complicated relationship with her mom and Gwen facing Lauren’s bullying, they manage to become friends and enjoy each other’s company. I think when you’re burdened with hardships like those it’s hard to engage with people, never mind make a great friend, so I thought that was interesting. Definitely fun to write, anyway.

It’s Pride month, though it may be hard to feel celebratory these days. How are you finding joy amidst the difficulties in the world?

I live in the middle of nowhere, which in a time like this, I guess is the best place to be. So I’ve been at the beach that’s next to my house a lot with my dog and my brothers (Once the cat followed us down. He was grumpy). Plus, with college officially over (yay) I can interact with readers on Wattpad more, which has been great!

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.

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