There is a lot of wish fulfillment in gay themed Young Adult fiction lately. The stereotypical coming out story used to have a tragic end; even in novels intended to promote acceptance of LGBT youth someone had to pay a price, often had to die. Nowadays, coming out is easy, in fiction anyway. Parents and friends still struggle to accept the main character, but this lasts a few pages, maybe a chapter and the LGBT teen narrator moves on to other issues. I hope this is a reflection of a changing world but I have some doubts. Too often this kind of wish fulfillment ends up writing down to the Young Adult audience. Wish fulfillment has it’s place, but we still need reality checks. Young Adults can handle it.
The Center of the World by Andreas Steinhofel, translated from the German by Alisa Jaffa, provides plenty of wish fulfillment, but it contains enough reality checks to avoid writing down to its audience. Phil, the seventeen-year-old narrator, lives with his twin sister and his mother Glass in a crumbling hillside mansion in small town Germany. The setting is exotic, even for a German audience– that’s the wish fulfillment. The Americans are not welcome in the village; they are made less welcome once everyone there finds out that Glass has a long series of short affairs. That Phil’s father was only number three on this very long list does not help matters. Outcast because of his pariah mother and his American background, Phil has few friends his own age until he meets Nicholas and falls in love.
In spite of its exotic setting and the exotic nature of its supporting cast, The Center of the World is not a wish fulfillment novel. The novel’s triumphant ending is bittersweet, but its an earned triumph, all the more powerful because of what Phil goes through to get it. He has no trouble with being gay, neither does anyone in his family, but the town does not approve and the town makes certain its disapproval is known. While there’s nothing in The Center of the World intended to scare anyone back into the closet, the book’s grown-up sensibility makes it clear that life in the open is not always going to be easy.
This book counts for The Challenge that Dare Not Speak Its Name. It’s not light reading, but neither is it heavy reading. More and more Young Adult literature from Germany is becoming available in translation– I suspect because Cornelia Funke has been doing so well. It’s nice to read some of the realistic Young Adult fiction that is out there in the non-English speaking world.
I don’t read much young adult fiction these days. Not like I did back in 2009 when I first published this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. So, I have no idea what the current situation is regarding LGBT fiction for Young Adults. I do remember The Center of the World fondly. It was a good book. Entertaining in its own right, and interesting for the view of life in Germany it provides. As for wish fulfillment, I think that first paragraph is kind of regrettable. I don’t think I’d include it if I were writing this review today.