Closet Club

The Closet Club: Gay Fiction for Teens

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Are you in or out?

Being a teenager today means living day to day in a stifling atmosphere of conformity where being different is death, and for some that means literally. I know it’s comforting to look around at school and see cookie-cutter images of yourself, but adolescence is also a time of “trying on” different poses and attitudes and figuring out who and what you will be in the fast approaching adult future. And it’s not cool to dis someone because they may be “trying on” their sexuality, along with other aspects of their personality. So, gay or not, the awesome array of characters in these books will help you better understand homosexuality in teen life — from the inside “out”!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, and so close that they can practically read each other’s minds. Both are artists (Noah draws, Jude sews and sculpts) and in his mind, Noah knows exactly what their joined spirit looks like: “Jude and me have one soul between us that we have to share: a tree with its leaves on fire.” They know each other’s thoughts, they keep each other safe. “We were keeping each other company when we didn’t have any eyes or hands. Before our soul even got delivered.” They even facetiously divide up the world between them, trading sun, flowers and trees back and forth for favors like they are the only two people on the planet. And then the unthinkable happens. Their beautiful, kind mother, a friend and mentor to both, dies in a car accident. And just like that, according to Jude, “our twin-telepathy is long gone. When Mom died, he hung up on me. And now, because of everything that’s happened, we avoid each other–worse, repel each other.” Now gentle, oddball Noah has become shiny, brittle and popular while bright and sunny Jude has become gray and withdrawn. Then Jude finds an artist mentor with a mysterious connection to her family that just might allow her to finally truly grieve her mother’s death and find her way back to her brother.

Oh, friends, this book! This book! I’ll Give You the Sun is the most delicious, word-juicy tome I have ever read. I underlined so many gorgeous sentences and passages that the pages of my copy are practically phosphorescent with highlighter. You’ll want to squeeze it like an orange in order to get every golden effervescent drop into your brain. The paragraphs sing with marvelous descriptions of the joy of making art and the disappointment of missed connections. Jandy Nelson hasn’t just given lucky readers the sun, but an ENTIRE UNIVERSE in 300+ pages. Read it, weep, and then read it again. A simply spectacular book that you absolutely must not miss for all the sun, stars, oceans and trees in the world!

Rapture Practice: a true story by Aaron Hartzler


“Something you should know up front about my family: we believe that Jesus is coming back…I don’t mean metaphorically, like someday in the distant future…I mean literally, like glance out the car window and, ‘Oh hey, there’s Jesus in the sky.’”

Young Aaron Hartzler accepted his parents’ literal belief in the Bible and their strict rules about what pop culture he could consume without question. But when his parents talked about the Rapture, that moment when Jesus would return to Earth and take all the Christians up to Heaven, Aaron couldn’t help but hope that Jesus would hold off until he had a chance to live a little. “There are so many things I want to do before I go to heaven, like drive a car, and act in another play, and go to the movies.” And as Aaron grew older, tasted freedom at summer camp and started to see how other people interpreted the Bible, he began to wonder if he could continue along the path his parents set him on, especially when it came to his future. “The problem is, I don’t want to surrender my talents to God. What if he makes me use them as a missionary or Christian schoolteacher? That isn’t the life I want for myself.” Soon, Aaron is questioning everything, and though he deeply loves his parents, he is beginning to find their narrow view on religion stifling. “There are all sorts of Christians with all sorts of different rules, not to mention other people who believe in other religions. What about all of the people on the other side of the world who believe as strongly in their God as we believe in our God? Are they going to hell because they were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong place?” How Aaron resolves his dual life, comes to terms with his sexual identity and manages his parents’ expectations forms the basis of this simply told true story that rings true whether you believe in the Rapture or not. Aaron Hartzler’s moving memoir about growing up in a conservative Baptist home where Jesus was considered a member of the family hit me hard in the heart muscle. Although the evangelical Christian lifestyle may seem peculiar to some, Hartzler’s physical and psychological struggles to make his family happy while still trying to follow his own dreams are universal and will be completely understood by anyone who’s ever tried to figure out where their family role ends and their individuality begins.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg


“When you’re Gavin and Opal’s gay kid, you always feel like someone is looking at you.” Rafe Goldberg is tired of everyone always looking at him. Ever since he came out in the eighth grade, he’s been “that gay kid.” Which would be fine, except it seems like that’s the only thing people know about him. He also happens to like soccer, “the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and taking photographs of nuns on Segways.” But all people ever seem to care about is who he wants to date. So Rafe convinces his parents to send him to an all-boys boarding school, where he plans to be “openly straight.” Instead of standing out and speaking up, he just wants to lay low and blend in. And it works…at first. But then Rafe starts to get close with Ben. Big sweet Ben who likes to talk both sports and philosophy. Rafe thinks he might be in love. But how can he admit that to Ben when he’s worked so hard to convince everyone how hetero he is? This well-executed leopard-changing-spots story realistically explores what it means to refuse labels, and makes you think extra hard about the folks who don’t have a choice when it comes to hiding part of their identity. Plus it has the sweetest love scene (for me, at least) since I read Forever. If you like this one, be sure to follow it up with Pink by Lili Wilkinson.


October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman


Although I didn’t want April to slip away without reviewing a poetry book, this is not the one I thought I’d cover. It has sat on my shelf since last fall, it’s slim spine slipping down between other books, sometimes shoved behind but always reemerging to ask the mute question, “Why haven’t you read me?” Why? Because I was afraid it would hurt. Because I was afraid it would make me cry. Because this is a collection of poetry in many forms that examines the murder of Matthew Shepard and it’s aftermath and I knew it would be an emotionally brutal read. And it was. All those things happened—my heart broke, my head ached, I cried. But I’m glad I read it. Because this is also a collection of poetry in many forms that pays tribute to a life cut short and calls on anyone who reads it to fight against the ignorance, intolerance and hatred that caused Matthew’s murder. Each poem assumes a voice of a person or object that either witnessed or was in someway touched by Matthew’s life or death. We hear from the fence he was hung on, the moon who witnessed it, the prosecutor who argued his case, the jury who decided the guilt of killers, the judge who handed down two life sentences in prison. But the poems that touched me the most were those modeled after the famous apology poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. (Probably because all the apologies in the world won’t bring him back.) There’s this one, in the voice of Matthew’s heart: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/I kept beating/and beating/inside/your shattered chest/Forgive me/for keeping you/alive/so long/I knew it would kill me/to let you go” And this one in the voice of the judge who rejected the killers’ bogus defense: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/to deny/your request/to use/the gay panic defense/Forgive me/for pointing out/the obvious:/there was someone gay/and panicked that night/but that someone wasn’t you.” Author Leslea Newman has also included loads of fantastic backmatter, including a heartfelt author’s note, an annotated list of all the news sources she drew from to inform her poems and additional resources should readers want to learn more about Matthew Shepard’s life and memorial. A bittersweet and powerful collection.

The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen Finneyfrock


Celia Door is DARK. “When I say I turned Dark, what I really mean is that I gave up. I gave up on trying to fit in and make everyone like me. I accepted that no one liked me and I didn’t care what they thought…I realized that, in a field of sunflowers, I’m a black-eyed Susan.” It’s freshman year. Celia is turning over a new leaf. And it’s black. She’s never without her black boots, black hoodie and black and white composition notebook that holds her dark poetry. This ensemble helps her get into the correct mindset to enact what she hopes will be a singular, spectacular act of sweet revenge. “I came to Hersey High School for revenge. I didn’t have a specific plan worked out, but I did know this: it would be public, it would humiliate someone, and it would be clear to that someone that I had orchestrated it.” Eighth grade was tough. Celia’s parents split, she lost her best friend and she was publically humiliated. Now she only hopes to take down the individual who made her lose faith in herself that awful year. Enter new kid Drake Berlin, who “had the kind of style that you can only achieve if you were raised in New York City or possibly a foreign country.” Drake is as bright as Celia is dark, as popular as she is unpopular. Shockingly, of all the kids at school, he picks her to be his friend. Celia is flattered, but she can’t let Drake distract her from her plan. And she can’t tell him the terrible truth of what happened last year. But Drake is hiding a secret too. And if Celia and Drake don’t figure out a way to bring their secrets to light, they just might be undone by their own darkness. If you haven’t noticed, I can’t stop quoting pithy passages from this marvelous debut. Celia’s first person narration is sprinkled with humor and pathos in equal measure, which ended up making me laugh or cry every other page. Plus, she is a woman after my own book-loving heart. Celia freakin’ adores the library and isn’t afraid to say so: “I love a library the way a swim team loves towels,” and “Libraries are my power centers.” She even organizes her book crushes by genre. “My classic crush is Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. For fantasy, I’ve chosen Aragon from Lord of the Rings. Sci-fi is a tie between Peeta and Gale from Hunger Games, and my favorite contemporary fiction bad boy is Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.” In addition to her wonderful wordsmithery and pitch perfect portrayal of a girl in crisis, author Karen Finneyfrock has crafted an all too real tale about the consequences of bullying and the high price of revenge. Celia’s ninth grade journey is painful and wonderful and tragic and true. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King


“I think about how I have different secrets hidden from different people in my life in different areas of my life. I think about how that might be the reason I’m chewing on Rolaids all the time.” Astrid Jones is an excellent secret keeper. If anyone ever finds out that her best friend is gay or that her dad is smoking pot in the garage or that her mother doesn’t really love her, it’s not going to be because they heard it from Astrid. The only people who ever get to listen to Astrid’s secrets are the anonymous passengers she imagines in planes that fly over the backyard picnic table where she goes to lie down and think. It’s safe to silently tell the passengers. They won’t report back to her mom or gossip about her at school. The passengers are the only ones that know Astrid has a secret too, and it’s about who she loves. But secrets have a way of coming out. All of Astrid’s secrets are suddenly revealed one night when she is caught somewhere she shouldn’t be, and any comfort she ever gleaned from conversations with the imaginary passengers vanishes. Now she will have to take a risk and reach out to the real people in her life–which won’t be easy, but promises to be much more rewarding. This perceptive offering about an introspective teen trying to learn to live her life out loud is just the type of super smart book I’ve come to expect from wickedly cerebral author A.S. King. She’s building quite an impressive back list and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (To read a short, funny and insightful interview with out-of-the-box King that will challenge your image of authors, click here.)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins


Future Project Runway contestant Lola Nolan has a pretty sweet life. She lives in a mint green Victorian house with two dads who adore her in the swank Castro district of San Francisco. She has her sewing machine, a lovable dog named Heavens to Betsy and an older rock star boyfriend named Max who makes her heart go pitter pat. But when her childhood nemesis and hot shot figure skater Calliope Bell moves back next door, Lola’s sweet life turns sour. Calliope and her nasty attitude are bad enough, but it’s her fraternal twin Cricket who really breaks Lola’s heart. Back in the day, Lola and Cricket almost hooked up. But something terrible happened, something Lola still doesn’t completely understand, and now she can’t even look at Cricket without feeling her stomach sink. Unfortunately, Cricket doesn’t seem to be getting the memo that Lola is so over him, because he keeps chatting her up through their parallel bedroom windows just like old times. Soon Lola has to face the fact that the reason Cricket isn’t getting the message is because she may be sending him mixed signals. To make matters worse, Max starts making jealous noises over Cricket just as Lola’s birth mom, a homeless fortune teller, shows up one day at the front door demanding help. What’s a budding fashionista to do? Lola tries to ignore her troubles by burying herself in her latest creation, a Marie Antoinette-like dress, complete with bird cage wig and old fashioned stays. But her latent feelings for Cricket can’t be denied, and before she knows it, Lola is knee-deep in all kinds of drama-rama. Stephanie Perkins’ trademark effervescent dialogue carries her second novel along on waves of witty banter that a good friend of mine compared to a John Hughes movie. I couldn’t agree more, and look forward to more from this too cool, blue-hued, former librarian author.

Pink by Lili Wilkinson


“I never wore pink. Pink wasn’t cool. Pink wasn’t existential. Pink was for princesses and ballet shoes and glittery fairies.” Serious, all-black-wearing Ava has a secret. She longs to be one of those “Girly girls who wore flavored lip gloss and read magazines and talked on the phone…girls who like boys.” Because Ava likes girls. Or, at least, one girl: Chloe, she of the dark vintage clothes and sophisticated literature taste. But now Ava is wondering if maybe she just didn’t give the color pink or boys enough of chance. So she’s transferring to a posh private school in order to try on a different identity, one that her way-left-of-center parents and cynical Chloe definitely wouldn’t approve of. At her new school, she tries fitting in with the Pastels: smart, Brooks Brothers-styled preppies with perfect hair and grades who are all performing in the high school musical. Unfortunately, the best voice-challenged Ava can do is make stage crew, where she meets the anti-Glee gang: the Screws. Like Chloe, they favor dark clothing but have more wider ranging interests than deconstructing Sartre or black and white French films. They’re actually really smart, funny and cool, when they’re not constantly slagging on the actors. Ava warms to the Screws more than she thought she would, but she also still wants to be a pretty Pastel. The deeper undercover she goes, the more confused she gets. Is she gay or straight? Preppy or pouty? Pastel or Screw? Is it possible to have it all and Chloe too? Or is she doomed to have to choose? This refreshing fish-out-of-water story is just what the doctor ordered to spice up the tired old chick lit genre. Ava’s classic adolescent identity crisis is made brand spanking new by the fact that she’s already living the bohemian life most high schoolers dream of, but instead longs for structure, collared shirts and a date to the senior prom. Which just goes to show that the grass is always greener on the other side of the cafeteria…and nobody illustrates that fact better than Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, who also happens to be employed in the incredibly cool profession of teen librarian when she’s not writing super snappy dialogue or creating moments of exquisite fictional teenage embarrassment. All this good, girly, gothy fun can be found at a library or bookstore near you!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan


will grayson
Meet Will Grayson. He’s the guy at school who tries to blend in with the scenery. He doesn’t like to rock the boat and he doesn’t like to get too emotional. “I don’t really understand the point of crying. Also, I feel that crying is almost…totally avoidable if you follow two very simple rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut up.” Unfortunately, Will’s best friend Tiny Cooper is his exact opposite: big, loud and flamboyantly gay. And Tiny keeps making Will care—about him, about the musical he’s writing based on his life called “Tiny Dancer,” and about Jane, the uber-smart girl in the Gay-Straight Alliance who likes the band Neutral Milk Hotel as much as Will does and drives an orange Volvo. Will could probably care about Jane if he tried. In fact, he could probably fall in love with her—if he wasn’t so terrified by the idea that she might find out the truth about him: “Not that smart. Not that hot. Not that nice. Not that funny. That’s me: I’m not that.”

Now, meet will grayson. He’s the guy at school who hates everything. “i am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.” He feels one emotion—rage, and makes sure everyone knows it. Unfortunately for will, despite his obvious dissing of her, this girl Maura seems to like him although he can’t understand why. “it’s like those people who become friends in prison even though they would never really talk to each other if they weren’t in prison. that’s what maura and i are like, i think.” will’s only solace is chatting online with isaac, a guy he’s never met face to face but who feels like his soulmate. He could probably fall in love with isaac if he let himself. And that’s exactly what he intends to do when makes plans to meet up with isaac in Chicago in, of all ironic places, a porn shop.

…the same porn shop Will Grayson finds himself wandering around after his fake i.d. gets him thrown out of the club he tried to get into with Tiny and Jane. Will Grayson, meet will grayson. Two very different dudes with the same name and the same problems when it comes to matters of the heart. But now that they’ve actually met? Their lives will never be the same…

This epic and utterly unforgettable book brings together two of the biggest and brightest names in YA lit: John Green and David Levithan, both writing as, well, will Grayson. As a result, the levels of smart and funny are off the charts. My advance review copy is chock full of scribbles, giggles, highlights and underlines. And stealing every scene is the irrepressible Tiny, whose sheer exuberance at being alive and being in love helps both Will graysons get their acts together. (The amazing thing about Tiny is that he’s written by both Green and Levithan, who manage to keep him consistently fabulous through the whole book.) Who’s writing who? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!


Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict