Representation of the LGBTQ+ community in YA has come a long way since the dark ages. Or since the 2000s, when all we got was J. K. Rowling’s retconning of Dumbledore’s character and a couple of David Levithan’s books hidden away in the teen fiction section of the book store. But sometimes it feels like even when we’re making strides towards better representation of queer individuals, a large part of the community is being left out.
The majority of publishers seem to have defined “queer YA” as the story of two white cis guys falling in love. And while those stories are needed, they don’t represent the majority of the individuals in the community. Only publishing books that feature white cis able-bodied boys as the main characters leaves out the stories of trans people, queer people of color, disabled queer people, and queer girls, to name a few.
When a f/f romance appears in a YA book, the book’s promotional campaign often doesn’t state that a f/f romance is a part of the deal. Especially when it comes to the sci-fi/fantasy section, as there is already a lack of f/f romances when it comes to those genres. I can count on one hand the number of sci-fi/fantasy books I’ve read with a queer girl lead that ended up in a f/f relationship (or is in a f/f relationship at this point in the series). Romances that feature two girls are a rare occurrence as is, but when you add the struggle of finding those books amidst books that may just be posing as a queer romance, the task becomes quite difficult.
A lot of f/f books aren’t marketed as that by the publishers and while a lot of book bloggers and booktubers out there are spreading the word about books with queer girl leads and f/f romances, a lot of it doesn’t reach the people who aren’t as involved in the book community. I am so lucky to have found people that talk about f/f romances openly and promote books that feature f/f romances, but publishers should be doing their part, too.
A lot of the time, it feels like publishers are worried about scaring away their audience if they openly say that a book is f/f, which I’d assume is the reason why so many synopses featuring f/f romances are so vague when it comes to the romance side of things. For example, the synopsis for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, a beautiful book featuring a wonderfully written f/f romance only says that the main character, Lei, falls in love and part of the book is a forbidden romance (“Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot….”). This isn’t the only book where the synopsis doesn’t fully what’ll be in the book.
In The Abyss Surrounds Us, one of the better known f/f sff books, doesn’t even have a mention of the romance in the synopsis, even though it’s quite a large part of the book. In the synopsis for Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, there’s no mention of the girl that Alex, the main character, has a crush on, and yet there’s a mention of the boy she just met and who’s assumed to be the love interest. In the description for Summer of Salt by Katrina Leto, there’s no mention that the romance is going to be f/f. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, one of the most hyped releases of 2019, was never marketed as a book that featured an f/f romance by the publisher, despite the fact that it’s the main relationship.
The reason I found out half of those books were f/f was thanks to the authors, who were mentioning this on their social media in response to the confusion and thanks to book bloggers and early reviews. But it’s not the authors’ or the book bloggers’ job to promote these books to make sure that they reach the intended audience. The publisher and the marketing team should be ensuring that the book reaches the audience that it is intended for. That’s how traditional publishing works, right?
And you could argue that romance isn’t a central part of any of the books mentioned, and I would totally agree with you – because it’s not. However, is romance a central part of any fantasy story? For the most part, the answer is no. And yet, it’s still mentioned in the synopses of most fantasy books. When the romance is straight, suddenly, publishers aren’t as afraid to mention it in their synopses anymore. They’re not as afraid to market it as a fantasy romance, even if the romance isn’t a big part of the story.
I think a lot of the motivation for trying to avoid mentioning the book is f/f comes from the fear that f/f doesn’t sell. But that’s not true. Especially when it comes to YA. The YA market is dominated by teens and teens, especially marginalized teens, are looking for stories where they are represented. Queer girls are looking for stories about other queer girls. F/f sells. There is a market for f/f romances in contemporary, in sci-fi, in fantasy. I cannot describe the excitement and joy I feel whenever I find out that a book is f/f. If I find out a book is f/f and it wasn’t on my tbr before, it’s definitely going on my tbr now!
Queer girls are looking for representation. A lot of the time, it feels like fantasy worlds are stuck in the past and there’s always the argument of “well it’s historical fantasy, it has to be accurate to the time period”, but it’s written in the present time, in the current political climate, in the context of today’s society. And no matter how hard you try to take it out of that context, it doesn’t work.
So, it’s time for the publishers to start making these strides and being honest with their audience. Authors and book bloggers shouldn’t have to do all of the marketing when it comes to f/f relationships. The publishers need to do their part, too. But also, let’s forever appreciate all of the work that book bloggers do when it comes to promoting f/f romances and queer books in general. If it weren’t for them, I would still be convinced that Dumbledore was good representation for the LGBTQ+ community. Which,,, would just be sad.
Book Blogger @ Our Worlds of Words.
Nadia is a queer teen book blogger. She spends most of her time reading or ranting about books on social media. She’s also a huge fan of NBC comedies and the MCU, and she loves discussing her interests and making friends online. You can chat with her over on twitter.
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#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss is a way to boost diverse bloggers who are brilliant, have a lot to say and deserve to be heard loud and clear. What this is, is basically a guest post feature where every Sunday, one blogger from a minority will discuss things they are passionate about on my blog.