It may feel hard to believe, but sometimes, the internet can be a really good place. When I was actively seeking YA or YA-appropriate books featuring LGBTQ characters in a positive light that I could recommend to my queer kid, I wasn’t sure where to start. So, I put out a call on Twitter, and Book Twitter came to my rescue, providing enough recommendations to keep my TBR (that’s To Be Read) pile going for a year!
One of the first recommended titles that I picked up was The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It’s a wonderful book that I”m sure I’ll return to again. I immediately picked up the sequel, and can’t wait for the third book in her trilogy to be available!
Rosemary Harper, a human from the Martian colony, has signed on as a clerk on the Wayfarer, a long-distance hyperspace tunnelling ship. Onboard the ship are a motley array of sapient creatures – humans, and others – and they encounter more through their travels.
It’s not so much a sci-fi adventure as it is a character and culture study. The various physicalities and personalities of the multi species Wayfarer crew sometimes make for friendship, and sometimes for conflict. Aiding in this is the fact that every member of the crew has a dark secret they’re hiding, all of which come out one way or another throughout their long journey to a small, war-torn planet. That’s where events come to a head that threaten all their lives.
What really intrigued me about this book is the way the author uses encounters with alien species as a way of introducing different modes of sexuality, through the eyes of a somewhat naive human, Rosemary, who’s never travelled off-world before. Some species change genders with the cycles of life; others are polyamorous, and belong to shifting groups of partners rather than being part of one binary couple. Some species they encounter are open, welcoming, and curious about other species; some are “speciesist” and believe their own species to be the superior one.
Navigating all this is a fascinating exercise in diplomacy for the crew, and doesn’t always go smoothly. And when you add in the factor that close quarters in space can breed intimacy, negotiating inter-species sex and love presents a fascinating plot point. But ultimately, the book is about acceptance — accepting that others’ differences don’t make them any less worthy of loyalty, friendship, even love.
Just to reassure you, any actual lovemaking is done off-page. There is affection between some members of the crew, and there are love stories, but there’s nothing in here that a teen couldn’t handle reading about.
If your teen is into reading sci-fi, this book would be a wonderful way of introducing some concepts around relationships with others on the LGBTQ spectrum through the various characters on the Wayfarer. I highly recommend it.