Need a Book Suggestion for HS Graduating Niece
June 19, 2015 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My niece has just graduated from high school and is going to college in August. I would like to get her a meaningful book as a graduation present. Difficulty level: the kid might be gay but isn’t sure.

This past week I was visiting family. My sister tells me that her daughter, who just graduated high school, and starts college in August, is questioning her sexuality.

“Emily” is an outstanding student and is keenly interested in literature and writing, though she doesn’t prefer what are considered the classics. She does most of her reading on line.

My sister reports that in their discussions about this, Emily is currently describing herself as “possibly pansexual.” My sister’s line at this early stage is not to rush to labels and just live life in a way that feels right.

As a gay uncle, I would like to get Emily a literary book for a graduation present that might help her—ever so gently—begin to find words to put to her feelings. That is to say, a work that explores and questions more than begins with answers.

Quite by chance, today I happened to hear a terrific Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with Jacqueline Woodson, and I thought, gosh, this is just the ticket. But Woodson’s output is prodigious, and I have zero idea which of her books might be good here. I also don’t know if Emily likes poetry.

So I’m looking for recent fiction—Emily says that she doesn’t prefer the classics—recommendations, by any author, that might provide gentle insight to a questioning young woman. Bonus points if there is a fantasy element that is not science fiction (Emily’s expressed preference).

I’m not especially close to my niece, so it may be that I should just stay out of this aspect of her life. But if there’s something meaningful that might guide her to articulating the questions she’s feeling (forget answers at this point), I would like to introduce her to it.

Not incidentally, yes, my sister is fine with the idea.
posted by Short Attention Sp to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss's book "Oh The Places You'll Go." It's often a traditional gift to graduates. I know it's not what you are exactly looking for. I just wish I'd been smart enough as a mother of three to buy each son a copy when they started kinder and then have each teacher sign it over the years presenting it to the child when they graduated.

She's lucky to have you as her uncle.
posted by OkTwigs at 4:28 PM on June 19, 2015

"Becoming A Man: Half a Life Story" by Paul Monette. I cannot recommend this book enough. I read it when I was a freshman in college, and coming out as a queer woman, and it saved my life. Paul was a poet and Hollywood writer who wrote one of the first books ever about the AIDS epidemic (Borrowed Time). His coming out story is absolutely still relevant now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:32 PM on June 19, 2015

(I should say my suggestion is neither current nor fiction, but is perfect.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2015

I love Jacqueline Woodson, but I think a lot of her books might be a bit young for your niece. IIRC none of her YA novels include glbtq characters/themes.

I'll Give You the Sun won the Printz this year and is wonderful beyond the telling of it. Protagonists are twins - a boy, who is gay, and a girl. It's beautifully written, especially if your niece has artistic inclinations. It is for sure a work that explores and questions more than begins with answers. Maybe not so gentle: it deals with death and rape and a host of other very serious issues, but it's so good.

Two other wonderful, though again pretty intense, YA novels featuring glbtq protagonists:
- A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend - main character questions her feelings for her best friend, who just died in a car accident
- The Vast Fields of Ordinary - takes place during the summer between high school and college. Really a lot of drugs in this book, so ymmv

For something lighter: Ash is a Cinderella retelling, fantasy, with a gay Cinderella. Or maybe Francesca Lia Block - I found the Weetzie Bat series deeply comforting at that point in my life.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:30 PM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe something by Jeanette Winterson?
posted by orangemacky at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2015

Ash by Malinda Lo is a Cinderella story where the Ash ultimately realizes she's in love not with the prince, but the royal huntress. It was really spectacular.
posted by headspace at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2015

Fun Home.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue, re-imagined fairy tales, some lesbian, some not.

However, I would get her a book about writing. Reading One Direction fics on wattpad might be where she is exploring her sexuality right now and getting something 'literary' could feel like homework. (Reading online could mean anything.)
posted by betweenthebars at 10:19 PM on June 19, 2015

If you want a physical book to wrap up for her? Get her a copy of Writing Down the Bones, if she doesn't have one already. It's got a lot of very affirming stuff in it but it's fundamentally a writing book. Almost THE writing book, to judge from its ubiquity on the bookshelves of people I know. I'd intended to write out something longer, but the gist of it is that the usefulness of books for those of us who're, say, 30+ and queer in figuring out who we were as teenagers? Tumblr and AO3 and the like are going to provide orders of magnitude more diversity and ability to explore that stuff than anything in mainstream publication can, these days, and I'm going to guess from the way you've described her that there's a very good chance--hell, just from the use of the word "pansexual"--that she's already found those things. So, don't try to give her a novel. Just get her Writing Down the Bones.
posted by Sequence at 1:54 AM on June 20, 2015

Thank you so much for these suggestions!

You've made me realize that a single book is likely to miss the mark, so I've gotten six of those recommended. That way she can browse among them, which I know she'll enjoy doing, and then read the ones she likes.

(I read all of Paul Monette back in the day. Good stuff, though in this case I think my niece might consider it ancient history.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:40 AM on June 20, 2015

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