On Thursday, I went into my local Foyles for some non-purchasing, book browsing. Of course, the non-purchasing went out of the window when I found that their recommended YA novels, which get their own prominent case in the middle of the YA books, were all LGBT. All of them.
Speaking as someone who falls into the LGBT spectrum, I am a sucker for LGBT fiction. Representation is a really big deal as media shapes the way we see society. Plenty of other people have talked about why representation matters but it boils down to helping those who aren’t white, straight, cis gender and able bodied to not feel isolated because they don’t exist in the media we consume and to normalise how diverse our world is. The more we have racial, gender and sexuality diversity in our fiction and on our screens, the more our diverse world is normalised. And so LGBT media is a big deal for me, because it’s reassuring to see myself reflected in the books I read and the TV shows I watch.
‘Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel’ is great
And so Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan entered my life and I’ve spent the last two days reading it because I couldn’t quite bring myself to put it down.
Tell Me Again is the story of Leila, an Iranian American teenager who is just trying to navigate high school as best she can. The reason she’s finding it difficult, other than cliques and science tests, is the fact that she likes girls.
Now, I don’t want to spoil the story, because (spoiler alert) I’m recommending that you read it. But here are some reasons that make this a good book:
- Leila is Iranian American. Fairly often LGBT novels focus on white protagonists, so it was great to read a LGBT heroine who wasn’t. It also means that there’s intersectionality in the issues that are addressed. As far as I can tell from my white British perspective, Tell Me Again veers away from falling into tired tropes of how a middle eastern family would react to their daughter coming out as a lesbian, and provides a more nuanced response from varying family members.
- Leila is not the only LGBT character in the book. There are at least four characters in the book who come under the LGBT umbrella, and means Leila isn’t in isolation in an otherwise straight world.
- The characters aren’t all great people. There’s a tendency to portray all LGBT characters as saints. And I get it. After being demonised for such a long time, it’s tempting to make all your LGBT characters exemplary people. But LGBT people are still people, and when you have a cast of LGBT characters, you don’t have to make them all perfect, because the representation doesn’t fall on the shoulders of just one character.
- The plot is engaging and is well written. Because LGBT representation can be thin on the ground, I’ll read most things with LGBT characters in it. And they’re not always well written. Tell Me Again is not only well written, but I didn’t want to put it down.
- Happy ending. Okay, yes, spoilers, but do you know how hard it is to find LGBT books (particularly those with focus on the L part of the acronym) that have happy endings where no-one dies? It’s stupidly hard. So this is a firmly postive point.
Of course, it’s not a perfect book. A character who expresses romantic interest in men and women doesn’t want to label themselves and like all YA novels, whatever book the characters are reading in class has some significant meaning, but on the whole Tell Me Again is a great example of a YA and LGBT novel. The standard YA ‘finding where you belong’ plot is meshed with the standard LGBT ‘coming to terms with your sexuality and coming out to family and friends’ plot to create something better than the sum of it’s parts.