One of the most frequent questions that Jenn and I are asked is, “Besides your books, do you have any recommendations for lesbian YA or queer YA?” This is one of the hardest questions for us to answer, because there is SO VERY LITTLE OF IT, and on top of that, we don’t recommend things lightly–and when we do, we want to expound on WHY we loved something. So since we get asked so often AND LOVE EXPOUNDING ABOUT BOOKS, we decided to go ahead and make a book recommendation feature on Muse Rising. We want to tell you about our favorite lesbian (and queer and trans* and gay and etc.) books (both YA and not), why they’re our favorites, and why it’s important to support these stories.
In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park–a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians–her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.
Silhouette of a Sparrow is a coming-of-age story about a search for wildness in a confining time, and a simultaneous quest for security in an era full of unrest. It is the tale of a young woman’s discovery of the science of risk and the art of rebellion, and of course, the power of unexpected love.
Silhouette of a Sparrow is a stunning book, a historical novel that features a girl-who-loves-girls protagonist, a triumph from start to finish. The book is effortlessly lovely, has deep underlying themes of strength and vulnerability, being yourself and rising above the harsh parts of existence to create the life you wish you had. I was enthralled from start to finish, and the minute I was done, I closed the book, turned to Jenn (who was sitting next to me, reading too <3) and said, "HONEY, I WANT THE ENTIRE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT THIS BOOK."
Molly Beth Griffin has done something extraordinary in today's YA world: She's created a story about a girl who loves girls while focusing on the character and the love, not the difficult part of being a lesbian in the 1920s. This is the type of book that I can imagine a young woman finding and reading and cherishing, with dog-eared pages, underlined favorite quotes–the sort of story that she constantly carries with her in her backpack. This is the type of story that I wish the world was full of: a girl who's beautiful in her strength AND her vulnerability, who chooses who she loves and is strong in that decision.
It's beautiful, and I'm so grateful that it exists. And if you read it, I know you will be, too. ❤
I spoke with the awesome Miss Griffin about a few points of the novel, and she graciously agreed to a wee interview concerning questions that I knew people would be asking about the book.
Sarah: In a world where most YA books containing lesbians are relegated to coming out stories or gay issue books, it’s so refreshing to see a historical take on a lesbian girl’s story that doesn’t end in tragedy. What made you choose to make the protagonist of SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW a lesbian?
Molly Beth Griffin: In a novel, as in life, the purpose of a love story is to fuel change. And change comes about when something surprising lifts us out of ourselves. The more surprising that something is, the more powerful it can be. Most stories about GLBT characters focus on the “coming out” aspect, and although I think that has a place—it’s clearly an issue queer kids deal with—it shouldn’t be the only kind of book out there. Silhouette of a Sparrow is a love story—a story in which unexpected love forces a young woman to see herself differently, and become the person she wants to be.
Sarah: Your prose is an absolute delight–what/who are your influences and what are a few things that inspire you as a writer?
Molly Beth Griffin: Thank you! My background is actually in poetry (at Garnet’s age, I competed in poetry slams!), and now my most comfortable form to write in is the picture book. So I’m very concerned with the sounds of language and the intersection of written and oral traditions. I like to think that I blend my prose with poetry, music, and even theater, to give a rich reading experience.
I love reading great YA (just finished “Every Day” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” both of which blew me away), but I’d say I’m equally influenced by the picture books I read with my son (especially Byrd Baylor and Phyllis Root) and the music I listen to in my car (from Doom Tree to Chastity Brown). My favorite read-aloud books of all time are Kate DiCamillo’s “The Magician’s Elephant” and “The 13 Clocks” by James Thurber. Both are examples of brilliant prose that reads like poetry.
Sarah: Can we look forward to any more novels from you anytime soon?
Molly Beth Griffin: I hope so! I am in the thick of drafting a new Young Adult novel. I’m in love with it and it’s a mess. I’ll keep you posted.
Silhouette of a Sparrow (Milkweed Editions 2012) is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Young Adult Literature, the Minnesota Book Award, and Foreword’s Book of the Year (YA fiction).
Go do yourself a favor and read this book, support this novel. It’s stunning and the world needs more queer YA books like it. ❤