Friday, October 14, 2016

The Case Against Tragic Queer Books - Discussion & Review: It Looks Like This

This post has minor spoilers for It Looks Like This, mostly having to do with the tone of the book.
The world in general is becoming more accepting of difference. You don't have to look far at all to find evidence against this, but we're on a definite, if slow, upward trend. And YA fiction is generally pretty good at reflecting those changes. It's no longer quite so difficult to find books with queer characters (though there are definitely still representation problems). And more and more, those queer characters are given what more and more queer people are getting: hope. Hope that someday, they can live in a world where they no longer have to be careful about who they are. Hope about so many things.

I know that not all queer people have this hope or this freedom. The world hasn't changed that much, not yet. And in order to have books that really represent queer people, we need books that represent that struggle, that tragedy. But even so, there's something so demoralizing about reading a book like It Looks Like This.

The sad reality of It Looks Like This is that it's too much like the sad reality. There are people who are filled with hate, and places where queer people have to hide. There's bullying, there are conversion therapy camps, there are people dying. And it's like I said - you don't have to look too far to find examples of that.

But you know what? Struggling isn't what it means to be queer. There are so many queer people who aren't living their lives in fear - who are proud, who are happy, who are existing as themselves. There's nothing about this that makes these people better than closeted ones, but it's so important to acknowledge that both of these kinds of people exist. And looking at queer representation in media, that can be hard to remember sometimes.

We already have so many tragic queer stories. Even when you just restrict that to YA fiction, there are still so many. But there really aren't that many happy queer stories. I can only think of two off-hand - Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Everything Leads to You - and they still have their let's-remember-there's-hate-in-the-world moments.

I guess that the point I'm trying to make is that there needs to be balance. And at this point, with all of the accumulated tragic queer stories, balance might even mean strongly leaning towards happy stories for now. It's not that tragic queer stories aren't valid and important; it's that happy ones are, too.

Title: It Looks Like This
Author: Rafi Mittlefehldt
Series: N/A
Length: 336 pages
Published by: Candlewick
Publication date: September 6, 2016
Diversity: LGBT+ protagonist, biracial LGBT+ romantic interest (half black, half white), many minor LGBT+ characters
Source: eARC from NetGalley

The main part of my post only talks about this book broadly, and that's because that's what affected me the most. In terms of more specifics, I'll say that the writing style didn't really work for me but that I really liked most of the characters.

Goodreads description:
A new state, a new city, a new high school. Mike's father has already found a new evangelical church for the family to attend, even if Mike and his plainspoken little sister, Toby, don't want to go. Dad wants Mike to ditch art for sports, to toughen up, but there's something uneasy behind his demands.
Then Mike meets Sean, the new kid, and "hey" becomes games of basketball, partnering on a French project, hanging out after school. A night at the beach. The fierce colors of sunrise. But Mike's father is always watching. And so is Victor from school, cell phone in hand.


  1. I completely get what you're saying. There are so many tragedies which the LGBT community has suffered does that really need to happen in books as well. Especially as the community is beginning to see a lot of changes for the good. There isn't the same attacks against them they are beginning to be accepted far more and are getting more of the representation they deserve. Good representation rather than a stereotype. And there are so many good books out there. That being said, it would be disingenuous for books to ignore their struggles. It's not always comfortable and nice to read but these are some people's experiences and it's wrong to gloss over it and tone it down. I think there needs to be a careful balance instead. I would much rather read the happier stories but it's good to know there are more tragic ones out there helping to educate folks of the ugly side too.

    1. Exactly - balance is key. I just don't think we're getting enough of it yet.

  2. I totally understand what you mean, because I think this is true for most diversities, right? Like people of colour and people with disabilities have to go through the same thing. So should the books actually be happy/hopeful or represent the world as is? IT'S HARD. I think it's narrow of us to never imagine worlds where it's 100% average to be queer. We need to! I think these books need to exist! But at the same time, I think acknowledging the struggles queer people face is very important or else I guess it might end up as erasure? Balance, of course, would be very nice *nods*

    1. This definitely happens to a lot of characters with marginalized identities. I singled out queer characters because a) it was a response to this particular book and b) I can think of a LOT more happy books about characters of color; and a lot of other diversities have so little representation that I can't even divide it into sad and happy. I disagree with you on one point, though: you said that books can either be happy and hopeful or represent the world as is, but sometimes, the world can be happy and hopeful! The existence of happy queer books - and happy queer people - shouldn't require that much suspension of belief. And again, yes, balance is key.