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Queering Young Adult Fiction

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LGBTQ authors to appear at Houston’s Murder By The Book. 

By Marene Gustin

The stars and heroes of young-adult (YA) fiction have been vampires, werewolves, dystopian teens, junior detectives, and boy wizards. What they haven’t been, until fairly recently, were LGBTQ youth.

“I’m always surprised, as an adult reader, how touched I am by LGBT representation in YA fiction,” says John Kwiatkowski of Murder By The Book. “They’re books I wish I had while I was growing up, and getting to read them now is a little bit of wish fulfillment.”

Kwiatkowski serves as event coordinator at the Houston mystery bookstore, which is one of the oldest and largest in the country. And he has scheduled a double dose of LGBTQ YA fiction for May 26, with readings and signings by acclaimed authors Mark Oshiro and Caleb Roehrig.

“I’m really proud that Murder By The Book gets to host this event,” he says, “and that we’re giving LGBT teens a chance to not only see themselves in fiction, but to see two queer authors discuss their work.”

Oshiro, known for his nonfiction and his online Mark Does Stuff universe, will be reading from his first novel, Anger Is a Gift.

“I wrote a book I wish I had as a kid,” he says of the somewhat biographical novel. “One where my parents were supportive, where I had the kind of queer-friends group that Moss has in the book, and where I could have experimented with actually dating in high school. My hope is that other kids of color, particularly those of the LGBTQ spectrum, can see themselves in the book, to feel validated and named.”

Roehrig also wishes there had been LGBTQ youth in fiction when he was growing up.

“I didn’t even know the genre was possible until around 2014 and I started seeing queer YA novels on bookshelves,” he says.

Roehrig, a former actor and producer (yes, you probably missed his appearance in Scarecrow Gone Wild) got married in 2011 and moved to Europe with his husband. That’s when he says he made writing his full-time job. He finished a couple of novels (none of which sold) before he decided to write the LGBTQ YA fiction book Last Seen Leaving.

“It sold right away,” he laughs. And it also won several literary awards in 2016. This year he’s released his second novel, White Rabbit, a thriller. The tagline reads: “Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence. . . or die trying.”

“I’ve always been a thriller reader from way back,” Roehrig says. “Anything with a body count!”

And while his Houston stop is just one leg on a national tour to promote White Rabbit, Roehrig is already at work on his third book, Death Prefers Blondes.

“It’s sort of an action-adventure retelling of Hamlet,” he says. “Where Hamlet is like Paris Hilton, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are kickboxing drag queens.”

Oshiro, who is now working on his second novel, says that with the recent success of the wide-release movie Love, Simon—as well as that of authors like Malinda Lo, Adam Silvera, Mackenzie Lee, Anna-Marie McLemore, and others—queer YA can no longer be considered a “niche market.”

“It certainly seemed that way back in my early 20s, when I discovered that David Levithan was writing gay YA,” says Oshiro, who is now working on another queer YA fantasy thriller about migration and monsters. “But it’s growing. I don’t think Anger could have been published a decade ago; it would have been labeled too specific and too difficult to sell.”

What: Murder By The Book author readings from Mark Oshiro’s Anger Is a Gift and Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit
When: 4 p.m. on May 26

Where: Murder By The Book, 2342 Bissonnet St.
More info: murderbooks.com

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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