Thursday, August 6, 2009

Surreptitiously Gay: The Westing Game?


All right, this piece was written several months ago, and just brought to my attention today via Worth the Trip, but since as you know The Westing Game is my favorite Newbery, I was intrigued by the question of whether there's a gay subtext. Before I read the piece, I quickly scanned my memory for guesses as to what the blogger might be looking at. Angela's friendship with Sydelle Pulaski (those matching checkered outfits!)? Turtle's tomboyishness? Judge Ford's... Judge Fordness?

It's nothing so straightforward as that, and I think this is really more about one person's response to The Westing Game than anything I'd pick out as being queer. (Really, the most surprising thing to me was the author's comment that some of his students wonder about A Separate Peace, even though "sex and sexuality don't feature" in it. I honestly thought that was what A Separate Peace was about, even if it isn't written explicitly. Isn't it?)

Philip mentions a few other books with queer subtext, or possibly queer subtext, like Harriet the Spy. What other children's books have you considered in this context? Since Betsy-Tacy is the hot topic right now, I'll say that I've never noted the slightest hint of a queer subtext between the two of them, though it's questioned occasionally by fans--but in Carney's House Party, in the Vassar chapters, it's barely even hidden. The Sue Barton nurse books are crawling with it (this is probably not a revelation to any of you by this point, but the author of Sue Barton, Helen Dore Boylston, was Rose Wilder Lane's life partner). The boyfriends in Nancy Drew were never anything but a joke. The first Babysitters Club/Friends Forever book, Everything Changes, practically reads like slash fanfic--and speaking of Ann M. Martin, when I read the final California Diaries book (this series is AMAZING, I'm not kidding) I almost cried because she and her ghostwriters never came right out and said Ducky was gay, although they left enough hints for people in the know. My most recent discovery was A Solitary Blue, which I loved loved loved and thought was very gay. Oh, and for a newer book, I haven't got a doubt about one of the characters in The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace.

I could (and do) go on like this for a long time, but any other offerings? Or thoughts on The Westing Game? (By the way, my vote for Newbery-with-most-queer-subtext is probably The Twenty-One Balloons.)

8 comments:

LaurieA-B said...

Well, someone should do a little work on the RWL Wikipedia article, since it says of her love life only, "Lane's diaries reveal subsequent romantic involvements with several men in the years after her divorce, but she never remarried."

I'm scared to touch the Helen Dore Boylston article, though--I've never SEEN so many footnotes.

Elizabeth said...

Really, the California Diaries series is worth reading?

I thought that Westing Game essay was sort of interesting, but like you, I thought it seemed more to be about this very personal reaction to it than any reason to call TWG a "gay book."

--Elizabeth, who is in the midst of reading as many gay (and other LGBT) teen books as I can get my hands on

Wendy said...

Elizabeth, yes to the CA Diaries, especially if you ever read Babysitters Club once upon a time (or, you know, now). I was skeptical, but from the first one it was so exciting to read about some of the same characters in almost-real-life situations. The writing is better, the emotions are better realized, the characters more interesting. I first read them when I was working at summer camp, and after I realized how good they are, read one character's three books aloud to some 17-year-olds who loved them, too. (Actually, when I read the third Sunny book to myself I cried buckets and then told them I couldn't handle it and they'd have to do it themselves. I'm not exaggerating when I say it has probably the most realistic depiction of hospice and death I've ever read in fiction.) Another counselor read a different character's books, that deal with girlfriend-abuse, to the 14-year-olds--again, LOVE. And as for Ducky--yes, Elizabeth, you should read this.

Kathleen McDade said...

Laurie, I think there isn't enough "proof" of the Lane/Boylston relationship for people to make it official. Or, someone could have put it in Wikipedia and then someone else took it out.

Wendy Burton said...

Right, because something being on Wikipedia means it's official...It's been up there before on at least one of their pages (the HDB one has been heavily revised since last time I looked at it; I have access to the American Journal of Nursing archives and will have to look up her piece about nursing school, v. exciting) and since taken down. I probably won't dig around for a source because I'm too lazy and have to spend more time playing, but someone should.

Elizabeth said...

Wendy -- WOW, you have so sold me on the California Diaries series. I did read the BSC books in my youth, but gave them up for racier fare (like Sweet Valley High) before this series started, I think. Time to make up for lost time!

(Oh, and re: being on Wikipedia = official, here's advice I overheard a friend once give to another friend whose paper was due the next day: "Just put it in a Wikipedia article and then cite it!")

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

A Solitary Blue is gay??

Wendy Burton said...

Another gay person and I were independently and immediately sure that Voigt wrote the Professor and Brother Thomas as a couple. It's a lovely relationship of a sort still seldom seen in YA lit, and I'd have trouble reading it any other way.