It’s a well-known saying that books have the power to change us, and I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. Some of the most important things I’ve learned, not only about myself, but also about the world around me, has come from books.
Book have taught me that I’m not alone in whatever I’m going through or whatever I’m feeling. Books have taught me to be brave. Books have taught me how to stand up for myself, and believe in myself, and learn to love myself—flaws and all.
And most importantly, books have helped me realise that I am indeed hella queer, and they’ve helped me not only come to terms with my sexuality, but EMBRACE it. Be PROUD about it. And I think that’s a really important thing. I have YA to thank for that.
What does it mean to be queer? What does it mean to be human? In this powerful #OwnVoices collection, twelve of Australia’s finest queer writers explore the stories of family, friends, lovers and strangers – the connections that form us.
Compelling queer short fiction by bestsellers, award winners and newcomers to the #LoveOzYA community including Jax Jacki Brown, Claire G Coleman, Michael Earp, Alison Evans, Erin Gough, Benjamin Law, Omar Sakr, Christos Tsiolkas, Ellen van Neerven, Marlee Jane Ward, Jen Wilde and Nevo Zisin.
I remember the first book I ever read that I saw myself in—I was in Year 9, still trying to figure out who I was, but knowing that this book was comforting somehow. It was the first time I read a novel with a queer protagonist. But not just that—a book about a girl crushing on another girl. It seems silly now, but back then, realising that maaaaybe I liked girls as well as boys (and nonbinary folk too) didn’t make me different or abnormal. In fact, reading this book made me realise that my feelings were valid, that I’m valid, and that being free to love whoever you want to love is a really beautiful thing.
But reading that one book didn’t magically make me discover who I am and how I identify—that was a longer process. And let’s be real, it’s probably going to be a lifelong one where I identify in different ways at different times, and that’s okay too. But it’s been the books I’ve read since that first one that have helped me figure out more and more pieces of myself along the way. Books are powerful things. They have the ability to make us feel seen, and help us feel less alone, and I just think that’s magical.
For that very reason, I know Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories is going to be such an important book in so many people’s lives—first and foremost, the lives of queer teens. Just thinking about queer teenagers, or teenagers who aren’t quite sure how they identify, pick up this book in a store or in the library makes my heart swell. Everyone should be able to wander through the bookshelves and see themselves represented in something they come across, no matter who they are. Kindred will be one of those books.
This anthology hasn’t been in the world very long yet, but I already know it’s going to make the world of difference. It probably has made a difference in a queer teen’s life already. And you know what? That makes me quite emotional. I just want to take to the streets and push this book in everyone’s hands. I want to go back in time and give this to 15 year old me and say here, read this. What you’re feeling is valid. You belong. You have a whole community of people just like you. If she could hold Kindred in her hands, she’d be speechless.
I honestly don’t even have the words to describe how much I loved this book. It’s just phenomenal. Each story either made me laugh, or made me hug the book to my chest, or even gave me that little pang of recognition like yes, I know exactly how those characters were feeling. It made me feel seen. It made me feel warm. And most of all, it made me feel lucky to have a community of people who are welcoming and open and kind. And the people who are going to open up this book and feel all those things as well, maybe even for the first time? That’s pretty special.
There were a few stories that particularly resonated with me, such as I Like Your Rotation, Waiting, and Questions to Ask Straight Relatives, but one of the things I loved most about this anthology was how different each of the stories was. Each of the authors brought their own unique style and perspective to the book and helped craft it into the masterpiece we can all hold in our hands. I adored every single second I spent immersed in these short stories, and I know this is a book I’ll be recommending endlessly. It’s superb. Really. We’re so lucky to have a book like Kindred in our lives.
Q&A with Michael Earp
Michael Earp is a Children’s and Young Adult bookseller and writer. Michael is also the editor of the collection Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stroies which was published by Walker Books Australia in June, 2019. Michael is repped by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency, and is also a contributor to Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories which is out in March, 2019 through Black Inc.
What was the first YA novel you saw yourself represented in? Is it still one of your favourites?
I’m not sure I remember the exact first book I felt ‘Yes! That’s me!’ as a queer, seeing myself in a book. And it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, that, looking back, I had that moment with. I remember feeling a deep affiliation with Anna in Joanne Horniman’s ‘About A Girl’, which I still have very fond memories of and want to reread someday. She works in a bookshop and falls in love! But I think the first gay-boy character I really connected with is Will Grayson (the gay one, obvs) from ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan. Yes, still one of my faves.
How did the idea of creating a queer anthology come about? And how did you go about approaching possible contributing authors?
The idea began with the release of the fantastic ‘Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology’ edited by Danielle Binks in 2017. I was the #LoveOzYA committee chair at the time and as Danielle had previously been the chair, people (incorrectly) assumed that the anthology had something to do with her involvement in the committee. Other than an overflowing passion for Australian YA, there’s no direct correlation. So when I was asked if I would be editing the next anthology, I thought, why not, but if I did, I’d want to make it a dedicated queer collection.
I got advice from Danielle, Nicola Santilli (who turned out the be the astoundingly brilliant editor for Kindred) and other friends and developed a wish list. Then I chose a small number and said to them, “I’ve had this idea, would you be interested in being in it if it ever gets off the ground, and would you be willing to write a personal endorsement to assist my pitch.” I managed to get five endorsements and so when I eventually signed with Walker Books, I was able to finalise the wish list, and then approach the rest with “So this is happening, want in?” (perhaps slightly more professionally) at which point they said “Sounds Gay! I’m in!” (perhaps slightly more professionally).
Can you build a bookish rainbow of your top queer YA recommendations?
Bookish rainbows are wonderful, but there are some titles that don’t fit in and that makes me sad. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is a masterpiece. Release by Patrick Ness is navy, rather than the bright blue or purple that would make it fit but is one of my all-time favourites. Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward is a brown-y grey and I still think everyone should read it. To paraphrase the Skittles slogan “Taste, but don’t be limited by, the rainbow.”
In one sentence, how would you describe your story in the anthology? What inspired you to write it?
Bitter Draught is about a boy who tries to save his fevered sister by journeying with his boyfriend further into the forest than ever before in order to find the witch.
I wrote it because I felt I needed to add a little bit of fantasy to the mix for Kindred. When I knew I was going to be writing fantasy, I knew I wanted a witch. At first I was going to write a male witch, but then quickly asked myself ‘Why it gotta be a man?’ and suddenly saw the nonbinary witch in my head and needed to bring them onto the page. I also wanted the boys of the story to have to face some hard truths. (I was going through a rough patch myself, I’m sorry I took it out on my readers).
If there’s one thing you’d love readers to take away from Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories, what would it be?
That we are all family. ALL of us. The queers, the allies, even the straights that don’t act like allies to their fellow human beings. We are all in this together and regardless of what you’ve been through, you will find your kindred. That, and just a ripping great read! One of the benefits of this having so many (outstanding!) contributors is that I can gush about it ceaselessly and it’s not me just being big headed. This is genuinely an outstanding collection of stories and I’m so very happy that I was able to usher it into the world.
Have you had the chance to read Kindred yet? What are some of your favourite queer reads? Have you read another other queer anthologies? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Walker Books Australia for providing me with a copy of Kindred in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour!