I didn’t start writing my first novel assuming that it would actually be read by anyone but me and my graduate school advisor, and maybe the memory of my teenage self. It was an experiment in longer-form fiction taken on by a self-defined picture book writer. But the project took flight, and after years of hard work, SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW is hitting shelves this month.
Which is terrifying.
Aside from the usual trepidation of a debut novelist, I’ve got some added fears. Why? Because what is to me a beautiful and wholesome love story about a girl transforming into the woman she wants to be, it will probably be considered, by some, baser reading material for teens than pornography. It has gay people in it. Gay people! And, you know, a little bit of sex.
And what I think is a unique and wonderful asset of the book—the fact that it is a love story and not an “issue book”—might cause even more problems. People might actually pick it up not knowing that it has gay people in it! They might think it’s historical fiction, a coming-of-age novel, nature writing, and so forth, and then be shocked and appalled by its “hidden agenda.” Or something. They might even have the gall to ban it. Kissing is dangerous! Can’t let teens read about that!
But as nervous as I am about all that, I’m also thrilled by it. It has always irked me that novels about queer people are almost always coming-out stories, where the actual romance takes a back seat. Thankfully there are some new ones that break this mold (my very favorite being Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff), but Silhouette of a Sparrow is still in the minority. It seems obvious to me: gay teens sometimes just want to read books about other gay teens that aren’t about being gay. And straight teens need to see gay teens for what they are—people, with all kinds of complex issues related to and unrelated to being gay. These characters’ stories are worth reading about in their own right, by all kinds of people.
So part of me wishes I didn’t have to deal with what’s probably headed my way, especially as a writer who works with kids of all ages, but most of me is thinking bring it on. Any extra attention the book gets for its “controversial” nature will ultimately help it reach more readers. I never intended to write for this audience, but now I’m eager to connect with them. Taking my cue from today’s queer teens and allies, I’m setting my fears aside and joining the conversation.
Molly Beth Griffin is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and a writing teacher at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her first picture book, LOON BABY, came out with Houghton Mifflin in 2011, and her first YA novel, SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW, is hot off the presses at Milkweed Editions. Although her writing reaches across all age groups and genres, it all demonstrates her passion for exploring young people’s changing relationship to the natural world.