Pride Month: Own Voice Book Compilation
In honor of Pride Month, I wanted to shine some light on some of the books that have helped me become the author that I am. Most of the authors and characters on this list identify as gay. All, but one of these books were written by own voices, which means that the author identifies with the character’s sexuality.
As someone who identifies as straight, but has written a book about coming out in the voice of a gay man, it requires time, research, and understanding on my behalf. It’s a sensitive topic, that some say should only be written by someone who has experienced it before. So I want to take the time to properly introduce character’s who were written by authors who have gone through the experience.
As a writer, I cannot control the character’s that manifest in my mind. But I can control how I go about telling their story and making sure that I make their story as honest and authentic as I can. I am aware that I write from a standpoint of privilege and that mistakes may be made. There will be experiences that I cannot write about to the truest extent, but I can do everything in my power to learn from other people’s real experiences, whether that be reading (fiction and non-fiction), talking to friends, meeting new people, watching Youtube videos, reading the news, etcetera.
And all I can do once the story is told, is listen to the response, take the feedback in, and learn if mistakes are made.
So with that in mind, let me introduce you to some of the books that have helped me along the way.
This is arguably the most important book I’ve ever read for research. I came across this book unintentionally, but I don’t think it was on accident. This book helped me significantly shape Benjamin Jacobson’s voice. I’ve filled this with highlights, underlines, and folded pages. Arguably one of my most damaged books because each sentence was crucial to take in.
Everyone should get their hands on this book. But if you are a gay boy or man, please pick this up and read it–especially if you have yet to come out. This book is important, will help you feel connected to other’s experiences and reminds you that you are not alone in your thoughts nor experiences.
The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant I think was the first book I purchased in regards to homosexuality. There may have been a YA novel beforehand, but this was when my writing voice started to changed.
In high school, I was assigned to write a research paper, in which I decided I wanted to write about same-sex adoption. It was then I came across the brilliant Dan Savage. For those who don’t know, Dan Savage is a writer and activist best known for his political and social commentary. This particular book was exactly what I needed to dive into my research paper. It was a further introduction into the hardships gay men have to go through in order to have children, especially in a country where same-sex marriage was no where near being legalized. Dan Savage published this book in 2000. To put things in perspective: no state had legalized same-sex marriage, this year 3 states had banned same-sex adoption, more states were looking into banning more LGBT+ rights, and very few states even recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships.
This book follows Dan and his boyfriend, Terry, down the path of deciding to have a child and figuring out how they could start a family. This book left me outraged, yet hopeful and from there on, I continued my research efforts. I went on to write numerous research papers on same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage. And a few years down the line, my own characters began to develop.
The Commitment by Dan Savage
As soon as I finished by research paper, I wanted to read more by Dan Savage. So I picked up this book and was introduced to Dan and Terry’s life after they adopted their son, DJ. This takes place about eight years later, and Dan tells the brutally honest, funny, and enlightening story about him and his boyfriend deciding whether or not to marry. And the honesty their son has by saying he doesn’t want them married.
Not only was this book a page turner, but it brought up different opinions and different perspectives. You hear sides from their families, and learn why one does want marriage and the other doesn’t want marriage. This book also goes into more detail of what life is like as a same-sex couple who has adopted and how that’s changed who they are. Again, this book is written in 2006 before same-sex marriage was first legally recognized in California in 2008. And in Seattle, where they live, it wasn’t legally recognized until 2012. So the debates and discussions are all revolving around civil unions.
While I don’t have anymore Dan Savage books, I know his words have been crucial to what I know and plan to read the rest as soon as I can.
Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America by Mitchell Gold
This book was given to me by my mother in high school after I had written my research papers. I’m grateful for the fact that she came across this book because I haven’t seen it advertised until rather recently. Nor have I seen it much in bookstores. This book has honest, brutal, terrifying, traumatizing, and eye-opening personal experiences. Each story is written by the person who experienced the pain and trauma. Mitchell Gold just helped compile them, sharing his own experience as well.
What I loved about this book was the introduction to a whole world that I was relatively unfamiliar with. I learned about their experiences, felt their pain, cried with their stories, and continued my research on to learn more about others who have experienced similar experiences and upbringings. I recommend this book for everyone. These stories need to be told, shared, and change needs to take place because of them.
Matthew Shepard is a young man who was a victim to a hate crime. I came across this book unintentionally. Finding it on a table at Barnes and Noble, I immediately purchased it. It was my first introduction to a hate crime to this extent. It was around the time I had received the book Crisis, but had yet to pick it up.
Matthew Shepard is a name that should never be forgotten. His story needs to be told. And this story left me broken, but in a way that was necessary. This book is written by his mother, Judy Shepard, who now has started a foundation in his name. She accounts for her experience of his death, who Matthew was before the hate crime, and how their family handled things afterward. Prepare to have a box of tissues near you because this book left me sobbing afterward. It’s kept me questioning the country and the world we live in and how anyone could be raised with the idea that it is okay to kill another human. But that’s simplifying this entire crime. If you haven’t read about Matthew Shepard, I encourage you to.
There is a movie about Matthew Shepard as well, but I cannot get myself to watch it yet. I read this 8 years ago and I still cannot get myself to pick up the book again.
Own voice author. YA. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
While this wasn’t my favorite YA gay fiction book, it holds something special. The main character Alek is Armenian. This brought on a different perspective of coming to terms with his sexuality as someone whose culture is deeply rooted. While there are many references to Alek’s Armenian roots, maybe too many that the book can lose focus, it’s an important story that needs to be told. The reader is brought on the cultural journey and Alek falling for his first boy. Alex also deals with being a teenager, like not feeling that he is good enough for his family or trying to live up to his brother’s dedication to religion and culture. What I did enjoy about this book was that it brought me into a different religion, one I’m unfamiliar with. While doing so, it had Alek questioning his religion’s beliefs on his lifestyle choices and if he could come out to his parents.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read different LGBT+ fiction. Michael Barakiva is Armenian and identifies as gay, so the book is written by an own voice author.
Own voice author. YA. 4 out of 5 stars
I read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in high school and absolutely loved the book. After purchasing Two Boys Kissing, I realized they were by the same author and I couldn’t wait to dive in. What’s interesting about this novel, is that it’s based on a true story. It involves two 17-year-old boys who take part in a 32 hour marathon of kissing to set the new Guinness World Record. The kiss takes place on their school yard, which brings up particular issues of the school’s stance on homosexuality, the environment in which they are in, the acceptance of two boys kissing in public view, and more so.
What I love about this novel is it’s a simple idea of two boys who used to love each other, who take on this record. But they end up proving to their friends and family they can do this, but also educate everyone who has come out to watch this record take place. I give props to Levithan for being able to write an entire novel where the two main character’s lips are locked most of the time.
Own voice author. YA. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Ari and Dante’s story was introduced to me by my friend and editor who told me I had to read this book. And I am so glad I did. I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel (and hopefully, maybe movie with the score, written by Lin Manuel Miranda – GAH). This story follows two teens: Aristotle, whose brother is in prison and Dante, who is a know-it-all and has an interesting perspective of the world. The two of them meet at a swimming pool one summer and as a reader you get to join in on the adventure of two teens who are nothing alike, who end up the being the person neither one knew they needed. I cannot wait to reread this book. It’s heart-warming and honest. Once you pick this book up, you won’t want to put it down.
Not own voice author. YA. 4 out of 5 stars.
I originally picked up this book because I loved the quote and was in the midst of choosing my own book cover, that I was intrigued by the cover choice. Well, I’m glad I picked it up and were introduced to Noah and Jude, two twins trying to find their place in the world after their mother passes away. They were inseparable, but then the tragedy and their growth splits them apart in two directions. The book starts out at age 13 and ends when they are 16.
One thing that was difficult about this novel was the fact that it switches POV. I was more interested in Noah’s story than Jude’s and it wasn’t until the completion of the book that I was satisfied with how the story was told and how necessary both POV’s were. Looking back on the novel, Jude’s story is just as crucial–if not more so than Noah’s. I suggest if when you get to Jude’s POV it makes you want to stop, push through it and you’ll be rewarded.
Own voice. YA. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
If you haven’t heard of Adam Silvera yet, check him out immediately and buy yourself a box of tissues. I first came across this book a year ago and I loved the cover and the rest is history. I didn’t realize that I’d fall so hard for the book. I actually put off reading it and hate that I did, but it might have been for the best because now I’m anxiously awaiting the release of his third novel, They Both Die at the End.
This novel follows a 16-year-old boy, Aaron Soto, who tries to find happiness after his father committed suicide months prior. He starts to find happiness again with his girlfriend and new friend, Thomas. But it isn’t enough and Aaron believes that a memory alteration procedure by Leteo Institute may be the way to go. Silvera has a way with words telling you this heart-warming and heart-wrenching story and then throwing a twist that you didn’t see coming until you are left turning the pages rapidly putting the pieces together. When I finished the book, my jaw had dropped and I was left taking a few breaths trying to wrap my head around the writing process that Silvera went through.
While I wanted to reread it instantly, I instead took to Amazon and purchased his second novel.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Own voice, YA. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
If you didn’t purchase tissues for his first novel, you won’t get through this one without them. I made the mistake of bringing this book to work and needless to say, I had to put the novel down multiple times to check my emotions and remain in tact to finish my job.
This novel is about a boy named Griffin, who is grieving the death of his best friend and first boyfriend, Theo. Theo had gone off to university the year prior and they broke up, yet Griffin always imagined they’d be together in the end. Even after Theo started dating a guy named Jackson. But when Theo dies, Griffin’s life explodes and the only one who can understand what he is going through is Jackson.
The concept of this novel is phenomenal, bringing together two people who loved one boy. When you put yourself into either person’s perspective you can recognize the strength that both of them had. Often times, when someone becomes an ex, you try your hardest to never come in contact with their new partner, nonetheless, forming a friendship with them and learning about who your ex was when he left for school.
Absolutely heart-wrenching. You may be shattered by the end, but you’ll be happy you gave Griffin a chance.
While these are only a few of the books I’ve read so far, my bookshelf is filled with LGBT+ books waiting to be read. Most books I have come across are Young Adult fiction. Most of my experience with New Adult and Adult fiction have been LGBT+ character’s being friends or family members instead of the main characters. Hopefully this will begin to change.
If you have any recommendations on other books, please let me know!
LGBT+ movies – while most that are on Netflix are poorly written screenplays, I’ve watched a majority of them in research of what is already out there, and how other writers choose to portray the characters.
Bridegroom – heartbreaking documentary. Shane Crone and Tom Bridegroom plan to get married after the same-sex marriage laws are passed in California, but then Tom dies tragically. Tom’s family refuses to let Shane attend the funeral.
Human Rights Campaign – my go-to organization to support and read up on LGBT+ rights and what I can do to help.
GLSEN – organization that protects LGBT+ students from bullying, discrimination, and from falling behind in schools.