By: Lisa M. Rand
Happy birthday to Tim Federle, author, broadway performer, and board member of the National Council Against Censorship, who was born in California on March 24, 1980. In addition to his work as a novelist, Tim Federle co-wrote both the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Tuck Everlasting, and the animated feature film Ferdinand.
Tim Federle grew up in Pittsburgh, the setting for my favorite read of 2016, the young adult novel The Great American Whatever. The story is about 16-year-old Quinn Roberts, who could have been a high school friend of mine. The book is sad and hilarious in just the right combination, and when he wrote, “In Pittsburgh, time is just endless,” my longing was to get in the car and head there immediately.
If time travel were possible, I would be brave enough to (very briefly) visit eighth grade and get a copy of Better Nate Than Ever into my school library. At the very least, I would bring it to drama club and press it into the hands of my friends. For us, it would have been a revelation to have a character in the pages of a book experience a same-sex crush in the course of the story. Telling this truth, that same-sex crushes happen, gives a gift to any questioning youth, and also to their friends who want to be supportive.
When Tim Federle wrote Better Nate Than Ever, he gave a voice to young people who might be teased for who they are and for having interests that do not conform to gendered expectations. The story of Nate became a trilogy with Five, Six, Seven, Nate! and Nate Expectations. The books continue to receive challenges from adults who do not want to accept the truth: 12 and 13 year olds get crushes, and sometimes the crushes are on people of the same gender.
For any teen, there can be an agony of fear and harassment throughout high school, and LGBTQ teens are especially vulnerable. The power of positive representation, alleviating loneliness and bringing comfort, should not be underestimated. It shows a reader that someone else has been here. And for LGBTQ youth, who do not always live in welcoming situations, knowing that someone else has been there can be life-saving. I am not exaggerating: life-saving.
The National Coalition Against Censorship is among the bodies that recognize the impact of censorship on LGBTQ youth. “LGBTQ stories are disproportionately censored in schools and libraries. #UncensoredPride aims to raise awareness of attacks on LGBTQ voices in educational spaces, educate on the dangers of LGBTQ censorship and empower youth to lead change in their communities and nationally.” It is worth examining the resources and efforts of this anti-censorship project.
Four of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2017 had characters or content related to LGBTQ identity, as did half of the 2016 titles. This is an area of censorship that is not going away quickly. I am grateful to Tim Federle for telling his stories and for giving a bright light of hope to young people who need to see themselves in stories.
Lisa M. Rand is the youth services coordinator at Boyertown Community Library in southeastern Pennsylvania, a role that carries a special interest in protecting youth access to diverse programs and materials. She exercises her commitment to equity and access for everyone by serving on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Lisa developed a passion for Constitutional Law and First Amendment issues while at Simmons College, and continued her studies at the New School in New York City. Whenever possible she travels, visiting libraries and walking in the footsteps of favorite fictional characters. Find her on Twitter @lisa_m_rand.