Published in 1994, Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence was the first anthology of YA fiction devoted to lesbian and gay themes and featured such YA heavy-hitters as Lois Lowry and M.E. Kerr, as well as authors like Nancy Garden of Annie on My Mind who had pioneered incorporating gay and lesbian characters and issues in YA literature. I picked it up as part of my own list for the GLBT reading challenge, because it had been on my wishlist for months as part of my efforts to bring together two of my school roles: English teacher and faculty sponsor for our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
From my own days as the target audience for YA lit, I remember two kinds of books that dealt with social issues like civil rights, child abuse or divorce. The first kind were the books that seemed explicitly written to address this particular issue in a very particular way, with attention to characters, plot, atmosphere or language coming as secondary concerns. This happens in movies and TV too; the best example is Janeane Garafalo’s character in Reality Bites worrying about being like the HIV/AIDS character on “Melrose Place”. The second kind were the books that were well-written, moving, funny and authentic and just happened to feature anorexia or shared custody or binge drinking. The second kind are the books I remember, like when Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself made me think about about anti-Semitism for the first time.
Some of the stories in Am I Blue? unfortunately belong to the first category, stories that seemed to have been conceived around certain questions, like how to introduce the idea of Gay-Straight Alliances to kids who might not have them in their school. Perhaps I am too cynical of a reader these days, but I’m not sure these stories are the best way to convey that particular information.
Luckily, there are also some real gems in the collection, stories that make you feel like you know these kids, stories that place you in their hometown, their bedroom or the hallways of their school and let you feel what they are feeling, either as a familiar experience or one you may never have had. These include “The Honorary Shepherds” by Gregory Maguire, “Three Mondays in July” by James Cross Giblin, Lowry’s “Holding,” “Winnie and Tommy” by Francesca Lia Block, and “Dancing Backwards,” by the anthology’s editor, Marion Dane Bauer. In each of these, gay and lesbian characters were vivid and carefully drawn, and the adolescents were clearly and authentically depicted, with the craft of storytelling always evident.
I think this could be a great book for a classroom unit in middle school, but I myself plan on donating my copy to the middle school attached to the elementary school where my daughters are, hoping that it finds its way into the hands of students who find sympathy and comfort in its pages, as well as students who might come to understand their fellow classmates in new ways.
- GLBT Book Group – Nevins Memorial Library (nevinslibrary.org)