Slowly but surely, children’s and young adult publishing is getting better at reflecting all of the diversity in society. There is still a long way to go to make sure that authors and illustrators from all identity groups are represented, but things at least seem to be heading in the right direction. One book that stands out for me is Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough which will be published by Little, Brown and Company in May 2019. I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Reading Copy (#LBYRPartner) and I am excited to share this new title with all of you.
Harriet Price and Will Everhart have very little in common. Harriet is a poster child for Rosemead School. She swims, plays tennis, holds bake sales for the school, and supports the staff in any way she can. Will is new to Rosemead and can’t wait to leave it, but before she goes, she wants to draw attention to the imperfections of this school which caters to the most wealthy and elite girls in Sydney, Australia. This includes the school administration which seems to be ignoring the misogyny and sexual misconduct of their Olympic-medal-winning swim coach. While it seems inevitable that Will and Harriet will connect, their incredibly different personalities and goals make the reading leading up to their romance tremendously fun.
Will and Harriet start getting to know each other when they create a fictional student named Amelia Westlake who responds to discriminatory practices in the school. Whether it is the inappropriate actions of Coach Hadley, the unfair grading practices of an English teacher, or the costly school uniforms, Amelia Westlake speaks for the voiceless. Through Amelia, Will and Harriet start to see that they are each holding something back from the world.
Many books about LGBTQ characters focus on either one character dealing with their identity or a romance between two main characters. While that is important and should be celebrated, Gough takes a different approach with this story. Both Harriet and Will are in relationships with other queer characters at the beginning of this book which expands the reader’s access to this community. And, most excitingly, they are all dynamic characters whose different personalities bring depth to the LGBTQ experience.
This book would be an excellent choice to share with students who are interested in activism. The voices of the characters are funny, honest, and reflective of the experiences and thoughts of high school girls. This book also examines issues important to teenagers such as power structure, cultural representation, and the inner conflict of fighting for others or staying silent. While Amelia Westlake may never have been here, I am really glad that her book is!
Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.
Action 18: I stand up to exclusion, prejudice and discrimination, even when it’s not popular or easy or when no one else does.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).