You guys know I’m not much of a Middle Grade reader, but there are a few authors for whom I happily make exceptions…like Tara Dairman and her series about a tween foodie named Gladys, the third book of which, Stars So Sweet, releases July 19th! One of the things I desperately look for in MG, to the shock of no one, is the presence of LGBTQ content, so I’m particularly excited to be hosting this guest post for the Stars So Sweet blog tour…and I’ll let Tara take it away from here!
Near the end of my new middle-grade book, STARS SO SWEET, a 12-year-old character admits to having a crush on a kid of the same gender. (I won’t say which character or gender here, since it’s kind of a spoiler.)
I remember the day I turned the first draft in to my editor. I took a deep breath before pressing send. I felt 100% right about the choice to include this twist in the book–it was something I’d always known about this character, and I felt that I’d written the pivotal scene well. But it hadn’t been in my proposed outline, and it had surprised a few of my beta readers. It might surprise my editor as well.
To her, and my publisher’s, credit, no one ever suggested I remove it. They asked me to shore up the narrative so that the “reveal” scene was better set up, and they told me to be prepared for backlash–for e-mails from offended readers, for the book possibly being censored in some places. But more likely, they said, the response would be too quiet to quantify. The book would simply not sell to some libraries and families; I’d never hear about why.
While my middle-grade series focuses primarily on foodie adventures and friendship, it touches on first crushes, too. THE STARS OF SUMMER (book 2) even has a first kiss. So in this third and final book, it would have felt disingenuous to me to hide this particular character’s feelings just because they were same-sex. It would have offended me to leave them out.
Advance copies of STARS SO SWEET have been out in the world for a few months now, and I’m pleased to report that pushback has been minimal so far. The couple of readers who have contacted me with concerns about this plot point have been polite and open to a frank dialogue. And I’ve heard from other readers in appreciation of the story line, too. I hope that both of these trends continue.
When I was growing up, “gay” was a playground slur, and there were virtually no gay characters in books for young readers. That’s not the world I want the next generation to come of age in. I want my readers to know that feelings like this character’s are normal and no big deal, and I want them to be able to read books in which that normalcy is reflected.
I deeply admire the YA and MG authors who are creating this literature for young readers, and with the publication of STARS SO SWEET, I’m proud to take my place among them.
Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade foodie novel ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin) which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and won a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. THE STARS OF SUMMER followed in 2015, and STARS SO SWEET (7/19/16) completes the series. Tara grew up in New York and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her family.
As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise: her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.