YA fiction

You Too Can Save Lives

Note: If you or someone you know needs help, you can call The Trevor Project‘s 24/7 confidential hotline: 1-866-488-7386

by Alex Sanchez, author of Rainbow Boys

When my first novel, Rainbow Boys, was about to be published my editor asked me, “Do you realize this book is going to save lives?”

I wondered if he’d confused my book with someone else’s. But then the novel came out, and I began to receive emails from readers. Some said the protagonists had become their role models. Others said they’d read the book over and over when they felt lonely and afraid. And then came responses like this one:


I’m proud to say that reading your books and others like them, as well as getting help and talking to people, I have gone from being mad at myself for who I was, cutting and hurting myself and being suicidal, to a happy, expressive, fun kid that I feel great to be.

My editor had been right. With each new book, I’ve been privileged to receive many more emails with messages like: I thought about suicide multiple times but could not go through with it. Your books gave me the inspiration to go on living and to never give up.

Or this one: I was going through a very rough part in my life…  suffering from depression, on the verge of suicide, and then I read your books and was moved. … I don’t want to sound corny and say that you saved my life, but I can say you played a role in it.  I am so happy with my life today, which is something I never thought I’d be able to say. Thank you, again

It can be a little overwhelming to read such heartfelt messages. I never imagined that my stories could have such impact. No wonder some people have banned my books from schools and libraries while others fight to put them—and keep them—on their shelves.

And yet in spite of more and more books about LGBT teens, the pressure to self-destruct remains too overpowering for some young people. Their stories can be heartbreaking. Stories like Randy’s.

In 2003, I drove back and forth across America, writing my road novel about three gay and bisexual teenage boys, Rainbow Road. As I traveled I typed up a first draft on my laptop and got excruciating carpal tunnel syndrome. After I finished my trip I settled in Miami. I couldn’t type anymore, and a second draft was due to my publisher. So, I prayed, “God, I need your help. If you want this book published, please help me find a way.”

Miraculously, the next day I opened my inbox and found an email from a 15 year-old boy named Randy:

Hey, I want to tell u that your books are awesome…… can u believe I read Rainbow Boys in one morning? I can’t wait to read the third Rainbow Book!!!…. Now, I want to ask you 2 favors. First, I really want u to come to Miami to sign my books… second, I want u to come visit my school where there are a lot of homophobics. In my first year, I was called lots of names and constantly humiliated. And now that my second year is coming, I don’t want to experience the same things I will really really really appreciate that u answer me. Like soon

I remembered my prayer from the previous day and thought: Hmm… So I wrote back:

Hi Randy, Thanks for your email.  I’m actually in Miami, writing the third RAINBOW book, and I need someone to type it.  Do you have a computer? Can you type well?  Would you like a summer job? Also, I need to know if you’re out to your parents because I’d need to have their permission. Thanks!

To which Randy wrote back: Dude, what’s up? Yes, I can type well, and fast, and me and my mom can really really really use some extra money, but I’m not out to her yet. It’s hard to tell her, not because of how she is going to react, but because of my father. He is way too “machista.” So why is it an issue if I’m out to my mom or not? I will love to do the work, but I’m just going to type a book (actually not just a book, but the third part of the bestest books I ever read!).

To which I replied: My concern about your being out to your parents is this:  Your mom might start asking you questions about the book you’re typing.  I don’t want you to do something that will cause you problems with your family.  Please think carefully about it.

Later that day I got this response: Dude, guess what? I just came out to my mom!.. It was so hard, but she handled it sooo well. God I still can’t believe it!!!!. SO? When am I going to start typing? Well, actually, I’m sort of busy right now (so many people are asking me too many questions about me coming out to my mom!!!), so later!

Randy and I began to meet at the public library. I would give him my handwritten pages that he would type up and email to me. In the process I got to know him. He told me about his crushes on other teen boys. He showed me his favorite music videos and brought me photos of his little brother who he loved. He revealed he was bulimic and would often make himself throw up so he could stay thin. He also said his dad hadn’t taken his coming out well. He’d told Randy he no longer wanted him as his son. I listened to Randy and tried to be encouraging.

After he finished typing my manuscript, we kept in touch. Over the next few years, he sometimes emailed me and I sent him copies of each new book. And then I received an email:

Hi Alex, I don’t know if you remember Randy. He’s the boy who typed a book for you. I don’t remember which one. I was his boyfriend when he typed your book. Sadly, I found out a few days ago that he committed suicide.

I was devastated. Now, years later my heart still clenches at the memory. He was 19 when he committed suicide. I share his story with you to honor him and his life.

We never know for certain why someone commits suicide. But research shows that for many young people it can be due in part to judgment and rejection.

A few years ago the highly esteemed professional journal, Pediatrics, published a controlled, objective study that compared two sets of parents. In one group, parents had accepted or were neutral to their child being gay. In a second group, parents had rejected their child.

The study found that teens like Randy who experienced rejection from a parent were eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared with teens whose families may have felt uncomfortable with their gay child, but were neutral or only mildly disapproving.

Well-meaning parents had thought that by trying to change their child, they were helping. When they learned that they were actually putting their child at huge risk, they were shocked.

I’ve come to understand why young people seek role models in LGBT teen characters and how LGBT novels can serve as lifelines. Despite the rapid changes in our society’s acceptance of gay people, many youngsters continue to struggle with rejection and bullying because of their sexual orientation.

Books can help, and you can help get those books into the hands of young people. Through your contribution to the Make it Safe Project, you too can save lives.

To learn more about Alex and his books, visit www.AlexSanchez.com or sign up here for his occasional email updates.

Would You Hide?

by Laura Preble, author of Out

I’ve written an LGBT-themed book, but I’m not LGBT. Some people don’t see how this is possible, but here’s why it is: I’m a human being.

My book, Out, is a speculative fiction book where opposite-sex couples (perpendiculars) are criminalized, while same-sex couples (parallels) are in the majority and run the theocratic government. It’s really a love story, though; a minister’s son, Chris, finds himself in love with a person his society and his church have told him he cannot love: a girl.

Before the book was even published, people complained about it, and said that I had no right to write this book since I was not LGBT myself, and I couldn’t possibly understand the struggles. Of course, that’s partly true, but that is true for every person on this planet. None of us lives in the other’s shoes. None of us knows what story another person is truly living. The best we can do is try to communicate something true.

As the mother of a gay son, I have seen my share of judgment, discrimination, and downright hatred. No, it wasn’t pointed directly at me, but as anyone who’s had a child knows, when you child is attacked, so are you. I was a teacher in his high school when someone vandalized the school and spray painted on my door, ‘your son is a faggot’.  I had to watch him as he walked proudly around the school, a 6’3 budding drag queen who never apologized for who he was, as comments were whispered and looks were exchanged. I knew he had to change clothes in the teacher’s restroom for four years because the locker room was too painful.

And I helped him fight. I had been the adviser for our schools’ Gay Straight Alliance even before he came out in 8th grade. I’d championed LGBT students throughout my entire teaching career. I stood with him at a school board meeting when he and several of his friends complained when the board supported the hate-based YES ON PROP 8, California’s referendum against gay marriage.  And in large part I wrote my novel because I felt that flipping the reality in such a drastic way might actually make the blind see.

That’s a tall order for a book, I know. But I kept wondering why these people couldn’t understand that love is love. Anatomy is irrelevant. Why could they not understand this? Then it hit me one day. They don’t understand because, in our world, it is inconceivable to them that they would be denied the person they love.

Straight privilege had imbued them with the implied understanding that no one would ever tell them they could not be who they were born to be.

But how to make that clear, and more importantly, how to give it an emotional punch? The answer, to me, was clear. Show a world where straight people couldn’t love other straight people. How would it feel? What would you do? Would you deny who you are? Would you change for your parents? Would you hide? Would you rebel? All the questions our LGBT youth have had to wrestle with for decades were flipped and posed to those who had never considered what it would feel like if it happened to them.

This is why I wrote the book. I wanted someone who is straight to try to feel what it would be like to be disenfranchised. To feel how that inequity festers in the gut, to ultimately feel sympathy, empathy, and the injustice of it all. And maybe if those people feel it, even in a fictional world, they’d begin to have an understanding of why it needs to change.

Ending Happily

Note from The Make It Safe Project team: Nancy passed away shortly after writing this post. We thank her for taking the time to write this and for all the difference she has made in the lives of queer and trans youth. 

by Nancy Garden, author of Annie on My Mind

Back when I was growing up, there were no Gay-Straight Alliances, and the only people who knew the “other” meaning of the word gay were gay people and people in the arts. I sensed that I was different from other girls, but it wasn’t until I was in high school and read a magazine article about gay men that I began to realize what that difference was–and why I was falling in love with a girl in my school. Then a gay boy, a fellow apprentice at the summer theater where I worked, told me about the word gay, and we spent many hours talking about our loves and our lives.

I’d already hunted in those days for books that might help me understand what I was, but the only ones I found at first were cheap paperbacks with lurid covers and sad endings: the lesbian character usually committed suicide, was sent to a mental institution, or died in a car crash. I learned later that in order to get gay books published back then, writers had to imply or state that gay people were sick or evil and destined for tragedy.

Eventually, though, I found a helpful, old novel, The Well of Loneliness by English author Radclyffe Hall.  It was honest both about what being gay actually was, and about the terrible harm that homophobia did to gay people.  It, too, ended sadly, but with a heartfelt plea for justice and understanding.  That made me vow to write a gay book someday that would end happily and would show that we aren’t sick, evil monsters. It took me many years, but I finally wrote Annie on My Mind.

Today’s world for LGBTQ people is very different from the world in which I grew up. But despite GSAs, organizations like GLSEN, The Trevor Project, It Gets Better, and excellent online projects like this one, it’s still far from perfect. Most of us who write for and about LGBTQ kids, get letters from young readers that make today’s remaining prejudices and barriers very clear. Those letters also say things like “Your books show me other kids go through what I’m going through,” and “Your books show me it’s okay to be who I really am.”

Books are important for all kids, but they’re especially important for LGBTQ kids, who still, even in this rapidly improving world, often feel isolated and misunderstood. That’s why books centered on LGBTQ characters are so important.  Sure, most people enjoy reading about folks who are different from themselves, but also enjoy encountering fictional characters with whom they can identify directly–characters who share their backgrounds and dreams, their problems and fears, their struggles, and their triumphs over adversity.  For LGBTQ kids, even in today’s world, books through which they meet people like themselves can be–and sometimes are–lifesaving.

By the way, remember that gay apprentice from long ago?  He’s still one of my closest friends–and the girl I fell in love with way back then is now my legal spouse!

Filling the Gap

by Malinda Lo, author of Ash

When Amelia asked me to blog about why it’s important to have LGBT-related books for young adults available in schools, I knew I had hundreds of answers. They come to me regularly in my email from readers around the world.


Here’s one: “You gave me someone to connect to, someone who made me feel normal. These attractions I have for girls are not some weird abnormality. … Thank you for the hope and courage you’ve given me and these wonderful characters and stories I can relate to.”

And another: “I read Ash without realizing that it was a lesbian book, but I quite enjoyed it, and then I waited for Huntress to hit the shelves. The books made me feel more comfortable, and I actually came out to my mother after I read Huntress. So. Thank you.”

And one more: “Ash is a character that I feel that I can connect to since I have also been exploring my feelings and my sexuality in the search for my own path, and her strength really makes me feel that I can also choose a life not so easily influenced by the desires of others.”

When I was a teen, I don’t remember reading any books that included gay characters who were normal; who didn’t have to fight for their rights to be who they were. I do believe that if I had had access to LGBT stories when I was a teen, my own coming-out experience would have been much easier. But when I wrote Ash, I didn’t write it to fill the gap in school libraries; I wrote it to fill the gap inside me. I was showing myself that love is love, and being gay is okay. I’m so glad that my books can do that for other readers now, too.