Bookseller Gina writes about ASH by Malinda Lo, queer fiction, and #ownvoices
I am very late to the game when it comes to ASH by the remarkable Malinda Lo. I’ve been on a quest to read more LGBTQIA+ fiction and I’m so glad I found this trailblazer.
In the far and distant past, 2009, Lo published this lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Before I read the book, that seemed like a fair way to summarize the novel. Comparing it to Cinderella now is unfair to the gorgeous world Lo created, influenced by Chinese culture. I experienced this book a full decade after it was released and it’s strange to think how much the world of YA and LGBTQIA+ literature has grown since then. ASH got a lot of attention at the time of its release and it’s somehow disheartening and exhilarating to think of how it would’ve blended in with the rest if it was released today.
The tenth anniversary edition of the book includes a conversation between Lo and her editor, Kate Sullivan. (It was a much needed cool down read after falling so deeply in love with the story. And yes, this edition is in fact available on our shelves. *wink*) They discussed the backlash they received for not writing Ash a ‘coming out’ scene. Lo held her ground and the result is an enchanting fairy tale about a young woman who is braced to run away and give up on herself until she meets the King’s huntress.
It’s incredibly important to read queer fiction by queer authors. It’s trendy now for books to have diverse and queer characters. Trendy is so often the first step to proper representation, but there’s a tangible difference to diverse stories when the person crafting them has lived in the shoes of the character they’ve created. Corinne Duyvis coined the term ‘Own Voices’ to summarize this idea. Of course, this is true of all kinds of stories. We’ve all read books with that element that we hyper-relate to and we yell to our friends about how accurate it was. It feels so satisfying and exciting when an author knows exactly what you’re feeling, what it was like to grow up in a certain area, or have parents with certain specific rules.
The way Lo weaves sexuality into this fantasy world is organic. There’s still that pressure for young women to marry rich men, but it’s not shocking to anyone in the story that some women fall in love with women. As a queer reader, it feels like a welcoming hug. It’s a voice telling you, you’re not weird, your love isn’t wrong. Instead of driving home some kind of moral, Lo comforts young readers in a way they may not even notice.
“Instead of driving home some kind of moral, Lo comforts young readers in a way they may not even notice.”
Talking about queerness has been taboo for so long, and it’s so beautiful to see so many authors over the past few years express themselves freely. YA is lush with stunning, diverse stories. Coming out stories are definitely prevalent in YA literature and have without a doubt demystified the fear and complications to those who never go through the experience. Lo made a bold choice by leaving out that rite of passage as queer literature was still gaining traction. The idea of not needing to come out really solidifies the fairy tale element. It’s the hope and escapism often sought after by readers, and a very special treat for queer readers.
More and more stories are coming out from new, incredible voices for us to fall in love with. LGBTQIA+ characters are so common now and they don’t even all die at the end! Most of them are actually getting happily ever afters.
More #OwnVoices in YA right now:
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst
Infinity Son by Adam Silvera
Dark & Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore