Mourning and Reimagining through Queer Young-Adult Fiction

by Bessie Flores Zaldívar

I grew up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras– queer, girl-bodied, with two languages throbbing on my tongue. Like many writers, I developed an early love for stories and, subsequently, reading. Knowing two languages from an early age meant more stories. More words, more worlds. But both of my languages– English and Spanish– are colonial legacies. The stories available in them could only exist in that container. And colonialism is, of course, among many other things, anti-queer. Growing up in the capital I had more resources and access to literature than in other areas of the country. Still, I can only name two non-Catholic bookstores in the whole city. Their small English sections pregnant with titles I have now learned, since moving to the US, was what Americans in high school were reading: The Outsiders, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird. My languages, in their nature, couldn’t speak of my queerness without violence. My country, in its bowels, knew only of religious literature and Americanization. 

What this added up to is that I didn’t see queerness in the page until moving to the United States in 2016, 19 years old and gayer. Even then, I remember the first queer YA I read being highly unrelatable– a story that has since been adapted into a cute film about a white gay boy who is outed after corresponding via email with his love interest. At the end, the boy is celebrated in his community and starts dating his email-lover. It’s a beautiful book. It’s a great movie. Queer YA, as expected, is predominantly white, male, cisgender. It took me a minute to find Queer YA that vaguely mirrored my story, but when I did I couldn’t get enough of it. Five years later, I still haven’t. I’ve been trying to get in touch with the why– I mean beyond the joys of representation. Most YA isn’t about people my age anymore. My age now. Most YA stories, even those about Latinx queer girls (which mostly take place in the US) will not read too close to my young-adult queerness in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

Here’s where I am at now: reading queer YA is how I continue to mourn the years I spent with my sexuality as a secret, a target, an impossibility. For most of my life, I had too many words but no language for my body and its desires. To read the stories of characters that have grandmother’s like mine, that dance to the same Reggaetoneros, eat the same food and see them fall in love with their queerness and get their happy-ending (perhaps in the form of romantic love, perhaps in community, or both) is to mourn and reimagine my queerness and its possibilities when I was a teenager. Most of the queer YA I consume continues to retell the coming-out story. I don’t know if we’ll ever stop needing the coming-out story. I know that I still need it. That I might never stop needing it. 

Here’s some of my favorite queer YA titles, currently:

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Patrons Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Juliet Takes a Break by Gabby Rivera

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