Our LGBTQIA+ Audiobook recommendations
By Emily De Vogele, Pauline Bird and Cameron Phillips
Alongside the rest of the writers at The Publishing Post, Issue 48 will focus on the representation of the LGBTQIA+ communities. Our picks this week will be those audiobooks whose subject matter and thematic prose champion those communities, or books by those who are part of the community themselves, and which record their experiences.
Cameron’s pick - Dirty Blvd: The Life and Music of Lou Reed
For many sixties teenagers, I imagine growing up being a bisexual or homosexual musician was an incredibly lonely experience. With the laws on homosexuality being as they were, there were very few role models in that vein. Lou Reed is an artist etched into the history of popular music, with his pioneering mix of alternative and avant-garde soundscapes inspiring countless fellow artists, but the other, perhaps overlooked aspect of Lou’s indelible legacy is his relationship and championing of New York’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Lou was quite evasive about his sexuality in interviews, but it is fairly clear that he was not heterosexual. As a teenager, Lou was sent for electroshock therapy by his parents for ‘homosexual feelings’ that alarmed them. He later wrote about this in Kill Your Sons. Further evidence of this was his tumultuous friendship with David Bowie, and his early to mid-seventies androgynous on-stage dress.
Lou Reed is an artistic hero of mine, and his engagement with New York’s 1970s LGBTQIA+ community is excellently documented in the audiobook, Dirty Blvd: The Life and Music of Lou Reed. Narrated very delicately by Aidan Levy, this audiobook explores the vibrant and creative, yet restricted, community which Lou talks about in many of his songs, including his most famous hit Walk On The Wild Side, which documents some of the scene’s most famous individuals. Transgender icons Holly Woodlawn (“Holly came from Miami FLA…”), Candy Darling (“Candy came from out on the island…”) and Joe Dallesandro (“Little Joe never once gave it away…”) are some of the figures mentioned. When ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ hit the charts in 1972, homosexuality was still classed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Lou knew this, yet despite his own troubles and evasive nature concerning his sexuality, Dirty Blvd strips back the complex layers of a man whose music pushed creative and social boundaries.
Emily’s pick - These Witches Don’t Burn
Fantasy, especially young adult (YA) fantasy, is usually not my go to. But when I heard people online talking about These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, I was intrigued and found myself listening to the audiobook.
The main character, Hannah, is a witch. A real element-shifting and spell-casting witch who is trying to live her best teenage life, including moving on from her ex-girlfriend and navigating her feelings for her new crush. There’s something delightful about the way Sterling intertwines these two plotlines. In certain scenes, Hannah is like every other teenager, dealing with crushes and awkward social moments. But in others, she’s battling her magic and trying to keep her identity hidden.
The laid back conversations around Hannah’s sexuality is something I hadn’t seen in a lot of YA books. Hannah knows she likes girls - this isn’t a question. Her friends and family know this and don’t think any differently of her. Her crush on the new girl in town, Morgan, and relationship with her ex, Veronica, are not framed in a shocking or different light, but rather spoken about easily. This is something I particularly loved when listening to this book, Hannah was a fleshed out character, with her own emotions and relationships, and her sexuality was never questioned or over analysed. She was allowed to exist as she was.
These Witches Don’t Burn was funny, light-hearted and a fast-paced read from start to finish. The audiobook comes in at just under ten hours, but it’s ten hours of pure enjoyment and witchy magic. Perfect for those who want a queer, teenage love story, centred in a fantasy world full of blood rituals and mystery.
Pauline’s pick - This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them and Us
I chose This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them and Us as I wanted to share something targeted towards a middle-grade audience with fully developed LGBTQIA+ protagonists, where their sexuality is not necessarily the main focus of the plot but rather a representation of the rich diversity that exists in society.
This is the first LGBTQIA+ anthology for middle-graders. It features a variety of genres, including realistic, fantasy and sci-fi. Some of these stories do feature the traditional ‘coming out story’, or first crushes, and because of this I think it would be more suited to an older middle-grade audience. However, refreshingly, it also has lots of stories where identity is superfluous to the plot, such as when a non-binary child’s cat dies and the family search for the perfect new addition, sending them into turmoil, or the tale of a young witch who transforms into a puppy to understand her new friend better.
The audiobook is about seven hours long but it is broken up into a selection of short stories, so it’s perfect for children wanting to listen to a shorter story.