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Groton library hosting LGBTQ+ book club for teens

The queer lit discussion group for teens at the Groton Public Library started with a box of books at a kickboxing class.

Colleen Lavin, a facilitator for OutCT's monthly youth group, said she had invited Kelsy April to a youth group meeting earlier this year to teach self-defense as part of the group's life skills programming. April's also the children's book buyer for Bank Square Books, and she brought a bunch of young adult books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes when she came to teach the class.

That box turned on a lightbulb in the mind of 17-year-old youth group member Lillith Davies-Smith.

"She brought us a bunch (of books) and was like 'Guys, these are all about you guys,'" she said. "Everyone was having fun going through the box, and I was thinking about how we don't have many books out there that pertain to who we are ... so I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had a book club where we focused mainly on that?'"

Lavin connected with Jessa Franco, teen librarian at the Groton Public Library, and the queer lit group has been meeting monthly since February.

Franco said the first meeting was held on Valentine's Day for club members to talk about queer literature they enjoy. They tell her what books and topics they're interested in — science fiction and fantasy are popular genres — and she keeps a running list of titles based on their requests and recommendations from April, whom she connected with over the summer.

"The only rule we have is that it has to be available in paperback by the time I order it," she said, citing the cost of ordering hardcover books. "Our group has been very conscientious of making sure every letter in the acronym has been represented in some way and that we do not focus in on one person's story or one type of story."

She comes up with a list of questions and tries to make a snack that relates to the book in some way, but she said each club meeting is pretty casual, with discussions following whatever path members take.

Davies-Smith said it's the perfect amount of structure as members explore the book together and feed off one another's comments.

"I think being able to find (LGBTQ+ representation) in actual books and read it is different because you're hearing someone else's story, and you're hearing that you're not the only one," she said, noting that she's read books in which LGBTQ+ characters have gone through situations she's been through. "I think it's important."

Lavin, who regularly attends the book club meetings, said she had been in a mother-daughter book club as a kid and she would have benefitted from a group where she could discuss LGBTQ+ stories and issues with her peers.

April said young adult literature in general is "unapologetic" in the issues it tackles and gives teens a safe space to read about the issues that interest them.

"I think because LGBTQIA issues are so loud amongst teens, that's why YA is at the forefront of publishing in terms of those issues," she said, adding that publishers have been supportive of those interests.

April said that when she makes recommendations for the club, she looks for books that can speak to readers through good LGBTQ+ representation as well as good storytelling and writing. She said Tamsyn Muir's "Gideon the Ninth" was her favorite book to come out this year because it's funny and it has some of the best butch representation she's found in any book.

"One of the things I like about it the most is that the characters in it aren't ever explicitly described as being queer," she said. "It's just evident in their interactions and their conversations and the way they behave."

One of the club's favorite books was "Ash" by Malinda Lo, which was May's selection. Lavin said she liked it because it was more than a coming-of-age story, and Davies-Smith said that she enjoyed it despite not normally being a fan of fantasy stories.

"Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli, the March selection, was also a favorite, and Franco said the recent release of the movie based on the book gave members an opportunity to discuss how both platforms approached the story differently.

Outside of the group, the library also partnered with Bank Square Books to host a booth at New London Pride in August to showcase LGBTQ+ literature, including picture books like "The GayBCs," some of the picks from the club, and books on the Stonewall uprising. Both April and Franco said they were pleased by the amount of interest from Pride attendees of all ages, and future partnerships between the library and store might include author events.

"I'm really excited for the potential for this program with Bank Square, the library and OutCT," April said.

The queer lit group meets on the second Thursday of each month. The next meeting is 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12, and "Pantomime" by Laura Lam is the selected book. For more information, call the library at (860) 441-6750.

Book group selections

February 2019: inaugural meeting and "book tasting" social

March 2019: "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli

April 2019: "If I Was Your Girl" by Meredith Russo

May 2019: "Ash" by Malinda Lo

June 2019: LGBTQ+ graphic novels

July 2019: "The Scorpion Rules" by Erin Bow

August 2019: "Symptoms of Being Human" by Jeff Garvin

September 2019: "Let's Talk About Love" by Claire Kann

October 2019: "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue" by Mackenzi Lee

November 2019: "We Are the Ants" by Shaun David Hutchinson

December 2019: "Pantomime" by Laura Lam

January 2020: "Leah on the Off Beat" by Becky Albertalli

February 2020: "More Than This" by Patrick Ness

March 2020: "I'm a Gay Wizard" by V.S. Santoni

April 2020: "Hurricane Child" by Kacen Callender

May 2020: "Lab Partners" by Mora Montgomery


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